Books

descent

Descent by Tim Johnston

One of my favorite books of the last couple of years is a character driven thriller about a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains, and the horrible aftermath when one of the children goes missing. This is a beautiful story of resilience that continues to haunt me.

- Daina

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twodaysgone

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

This layered page-turner is about a beloved small town college professor accused of murdering his family, and a small town cop, with demons of his own who is trying to track him down. The dark and eerie forests and lakes of northwestern Pennsylvania only enhanced the mood. This book is not for the faint of heart.

- Daina

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wolfroad

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

This brutal adventure story is set in the post-apocalyptic wilds of British Columbia. It is the story of survival, a gold rush and vigilante justice.

Elka, the 17 year old heroine, is one of the strongest and courageous protagonists I’ve read in a long time. This beautifully written book took me by surprise.

- Daina

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darkmatter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

This fantastically terrifying science fiction thriller is about time travel with a twist. It answers the question, “Are you really happy in your life.” It’s set in Chicago, and it was enjoyable to read about familiar locales.

- Daina

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crosstalk

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

A delightful, fast paced mix of romantic comedy and science fiction that speaks to the pressure for constant availability and communication in the world today and how that’s not always a good thing.

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girlwaitswithgun

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

To be honest, I picked up this book because of the cover.  I did  not know much about the story.  It’s really hard to summarize the story without spoilers, so I won’t try.  If you enjoy historical fiction and strong female characters, you’ll most likely find this an engaging read.
 Kate Z
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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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