Books

octopussoul

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

I always enjoy Sy Montgomery’s books.  Her writing style brings her subjects to life.  This time it’s octopuses. I never thought of an octopus as anything more than a strange blob. Now I know they have unique personalities, play, and can even change their color at will.  The scientific facts are interlaced with Ms. Montgomery’s own journey to understanding to make an interesting read.

I’m off to the Shedd Aquarium as soon as possible to get a look at these fascinating creatures for myself.

- Kate

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orhan's inheritance

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, commemorating the massacre of as many as 1 million Armenians, who were forcibly deported from the territory that is present day Turkey and massacred by the Ottoman government.

The author was inspired by her grandmother who told her about her own horrific experiences of that time.

Orhan’s grandfather has left the family estate to a stranger who lives thousands of miles away. The dutiful grandson travels to California to unravel the secret of this woman. This is the story moves between the last years of the Ottoman Empire to the 1990′s and is a story of first love, ancient betrayals, missing parents and war crimes.

-Daina

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all the old knives

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

This little, but powerful book was written by the spy novelist whom many are calling John Le Carre’s successor.

Almost the entire book is set in a secluded restaurant in Carmel-by-the Sea, California, where former CIA agents and former lovers share a meal. They discuss a mission that went tragically wrong in Vienna six years prior to their dinner, when militants took over a commercial jet and the ensuing hostage rescue went terribly wrong. He is here to find out if she is the double agent who gave key information to the militants. What happens next is surprising and unexpected.

-Daina

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Life Drawing

Life Drawing by Robin Black

This novel, is about a troubled marriage between an artist, Augusta

“Gus” and her husband Owen a writer who leave the city and move to rural Pennsylvania for a fresh start.

Their idyllic life falls apart when a mysterious and enchanting new neighbor moves in next door, setting off a chain of terrifying events.

This book was impossible to put down.

-Daina

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The Children's Crusade

The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer

This fictional book follows one family over generations, and centers around a plot of land that the father, Bill bought in 1954.  Bill bought the land before he could afford to put a house on it, before he even dreamed of having a family – he bought it in the hopes of “one day.”  The story follows Bill as he meets his wife Penny and they create their one day together.  They have four children and as happy as Bill is with his life, Penny is starting to become just as unhappy.  Motherhood, as it turns out, might not be for her, and it appears as though she is finding this out much too late.  The author does a wonderful job of switching back and forth between each character, the children as they grow up and have their own point of views and Bill and Penny as they start to drift apart.  This story is ultimately about family and about learning how to live with the past, even when it seems like some transgressions are too big to be forgiven.

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

This is the true story of Robert Peace, a young man who grew up in the hardened streets of Newark, New Jersey and a mother who did everything in her power to help him succeed. Rob’s mom, Jackie, worked around the clock, earning less than $15,000 a year to support herself and her son. His father was sent to prison when he was just a boy, for a murder that it is unclear if he actually committed. This story is both enlightening and frustrating, because as brilliant as Rob was, for every step he took forward, he seemed to fall three steps backwards. His mother was determined for him to get a good education, and was able to scrape up enough money to send him to a private high school, where Rob excelled and graduated second in his class. He was accepted to Yale University where he majored in Molecular Biochemistry and upon graduating had the entire world at his fingertips. Unfortunately, this is when the tragedy begins to set in. Rob can’t seem to lift himself out from under his cloud of poverty and drug use, and even his Yale degree can’t get him where he wants or needs to go.
Overall, while this story is ultimately sad, it does have its shining moments. The reader is able to get an inside look at just how strong a mothers love can be, and the sacrifices that people make in order to give those close to them a better shot at a brighter future.

-Stephanie

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Music

Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits

Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits

Ever wonder what a ’90s alternative rock band would sound like covering a favorite Saturday morning cartoon theme song from the ’60s or ’70s? Apparently someone else wondered this too back in 1995 and the result is surprisingly charming. Theme songs from such classics as Scooby-Doo, Josie & the Pussycats, and Spider-Man are given fresh (for 1995) takes by the likes of Matthew Sweet, Juliana Hatfield & Tanya Donnelly, and even punk rock pioneers The Ramones. As dated as this may sound for an album that  is officially 20 years old as of this year, these interpretations are nearly every bit as timeless as the originals.

-Dean

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alrightstill

Alright, Still by Lily Allen

This album is clearly a 37 minute and 12 second snapshot of what it was like to be Lily Allen in her early 20s. Produced by superstar producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Bruno Mars), Alright Still is a slightly filthier throwback to the kind of albums that such ’60s singers like Lulu, Petula Clark, and Cilia Black used to make. However, while she seems sweet at first, upon a closer listen it is clear that Allen possesses an acid tongue. Anecdotes of drinking, boys, and general partying are filtered through nonchalant sass and sarcasm throughout. Highlights include the misleading “Smile,” the playfully confrontational “Knock ‘Em Out,” the rambunctious “Friday Night,” and the unexpectedly tender “Littlest Things.”

- Dean

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Modern Love

Modern Love by Matt Nathanson

This is Matt Nathanson’s 8th album, but I’ve just found his music. He is a talented songwriter and has a great voice. This CD is filled with upbeat songs and heartfelt ballads. Each time I listen I come away with a new favorite.

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Songs without Words

Songs without Words: Classical Music from The War A Ken Burns Film

This CD features a number of interesting excerpts, including a lovely movement from a trio by the modern composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Edward Elgar’s impossibly gorgeous “Nimrod,” from the Enigma Variations (ask me the story behind that sometime; it’s fun). But the big winner on the disc might be the excerpt from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which was written while the composer was a prisoner in a Nazi camp. It’s a beautiful piece, and if you enjoy the bit on this CD, you might just want to seek out a recording of the whole thing.

–Gabe

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Throwing Copper

Throwing Copper by Live

One of the first CDs I put on my iPod was “Throwing Copper” by Live. It’s one of my favorites. It’s not new (1994), but I think it’s good rock music. I especially like the hidden track at the end, which is a little different than the rest of the CD.

-Debbie Z.

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Movies

Drive

Drive

Based off of the James Sallis novel of the same name, Drive tells the story of a part-time stunt driver and mechanic by day who also just so happens to be a freelance getaway driver by night. His only real friend is Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his boss at the garage where he works and the man who sets him up with both his stunt and getaway jobs. Everything changes for our protagonist known only as Driver, however, when he meets his next door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). Despite developing feelings for her, Driver agrees to help the father of Irene’s son with a robbery after their lives are threatened, but when his two world’s collide, Driver must take drastic action to ensure everyone’s safety. As Driver, Ryan Gosling is a man of few words, and is mostly expressionless throughout. While this may sound like a criticism, it’s not, because when Driver does emote, it’s either suitably subtle and sweet like in scenes with Irene and her son, or calculatingly brutal when he has to deal with the Los Angeles underworld. The real star here, however, is director Nicholas Winding Refn. Combining iconic cinematography and moody synth-pop music, it’s probably not an exaggeration to state that Refn has created the standard of which every subsequent neo-noir crime film will be compared.

-Dean

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community

Community Season 2

Criminally under appreciated, Community Season 2 ups the ante from season one for the pop culture obsessed series. Following the antics of Greendale Community College’s most notable study group, the eccentric, yet likeable cast that includes Joel McHale (host of the E! series “The Soup”) and Chevy Chase often get their biggest laughs when paying homage to some of their favorite film and television tropes.

While it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few episodes, one of the season’s earliest highlights is “Epidemiology” where the student body begin exhibiting zombie-like symptoms at Greendale’s annual Halloween dance due to discount taco meat. Later in the season “Critical Film Studies” simultaneously pays homage to Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre while “Paradigms of Human Memory” pokes fun at the clip show trope by presenting viewers with clips from past episodes that were never actually produced. By far, though, the most ambitious and hilarious moments come from “A Fist Full of Paintballs” and “For a Few Paintballs More.” As one would no doubt expect, spaghetti western director Sergio Leone was a big influence here as the school participates in an epic game of paintball. The game takes a turn towards the stars in part two, however, when an evil mastermind of Darth Vader proportions reveals himself and the scheme he has concocted to destroy the school.

- Dean

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The Bay

The Bay

Creepy-crawlies? Check. Moderately disgusting “special makeup effects”? Check. Things popping out of nowhere, loudly? Check. A relevant environmental message? Check?! This movie is a sort of weird hybrid of found-footage horror (think Paranormal Activity-style, or, if you’re an old like me, Blair Witch-style) and what I lovingly refer to as feel-bad activist documentary (King Corn, Food, Inc., etc.). The only previous entry in this hybrid genre, to the best of my recollection, is The Cove (note the similar title, even!), the one about how some people just can’t stop eating delicious, delicious dolphin meat, but it turns out that was actually just straight documentary. If you’re a fan of silly horror movies, as I am, and maybe give a hoot about the state of our planet, this movie will offer you a good time. And it’s short, so even if you’re not the biggest fan of it, it’ll be over before you know it. Except in your creepy-crawly-infested nightmares, of course!

–Gabe

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The Master

A lot has been written about The Master and it certainly inspired an interesting discussion at our most recent Film Discussion Group. I was particularly taken with the film because I like movies that are open to interpretation. And, boy, is this one ever open to all sorts of readings! One of the reasons I like it so much has nothing to do with its story or theme or anything like that, but rather has to do with its aesthetic qualities. It was filmed in 70mm, which is uncommon these days, and was clearly composed to be seen on a big screen (though it looks good on a smaller one as well). This, coupled with its interesting score, makes it a movie that is a pleasure to simply watch. Of course, one shouldn’t disregard the great performances or the thematic content! The Master is one of the best, most endlessly fascinating, and most beautiful movies of 2012.

–Gabe

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Battleship

Battleship

I know what you’re thinking: Battleship?! That movie is supposed to be awful! Surprisingly enough, it’s a good deal less terrible than you might expect. It’s dumber than a bag of really stupid hammers, for sure, but it easily surpasses its obvious inspiration (the Transformers movies) with coherent action sequences, a plot that is relatively easy to follow, and a third act that is absurdly hilarious. Also, it manages to pay homage to the original board game in a couple of small ways, one of which is at least slightly clever. I’m not saying that this is a masterpiece or anything, but if you ever want to turn off your brain and watch some stuff get blowed up real good, you could do a whole lot worse. On a scale of 1-4 stars, I give it: “Big dumb fun.”

–Gabe

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Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

This pitch-black comedy, from writer-director-playwright Martin McDonagh (director of the criminally underseen In Bruges, which I should probably also be reviewing, so: go see it!), stars Colin Ferrell as an aspiring screenwriter trying to write a movie called, weirdly, Seven Psychopaths. Pretty soon, he finds himself entangled with all manner of psychopaths: some real, some imagined, some Christopher Walken, and many complications and much lavish violence ensues. For all the copious bloodletting, the movie ends up coming off in a pretty genial manner. It’s a hilarious good time for all the non-squeamish adults in the family!

-Gabe

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