Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Genealogy Club

The History and Genealogy Club of Collinsville Library is a friendly group of people who share an interest in genealogy and local history. New and experienced genealogists are all welcome to join us and discuss your experience and share your findings. Upcoming meetings are February 27, and March 27 from 6-8pm at the Collinsville Library. Call Leslee at 618-344-1112 for more information. 

Posted by Jessica Lawrence, Librarian

Monday, February 24, 2014

Film Review - Gravity

Before I start what will probably be only the first in a series of “Best Picture” nominee reviews I think it is necessary to reflect on how I evaluate films in a review. Every film has its own unique relative paradigm determined by realistic expectations and comparable titles. The grading scheme is not a generalized bar. There is really no way to compare a movie like Robocop with 12 Years A Slave – they are too different.  Each film is measured then by how successfully it fulfills its potential, engages the audience, and compares to other movies of similar nature. If two vastly different films both receive an “A” – say Argo and Star Trek for example – it does not necessarily mean that those two films are comparable, just that they each were about as good as they could have been.

Roger Ebert was guided by this same philosophy of “relative, not absolute” critique and perhaps best summed it up by saying: “When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher.”


The hype is real: Gravity is a true tour de force of visual storytelling. The images in Gravity are so arresting and spectacular that hardly anything else matters. No film since Wall-E has told such a powerful story with so little dialogue and such an emphasis on the power of picture. Some books have been called “unfilmable” and in that spirit I would suggest Gravity could be “unreadable”. The appeal of the movie is so heavily rooted in the visual wonder that it is hard to imagine the story working as well in any medium other than film. 

Gravity utilizes the “ticking clock” technique (which is exactly what it sounds like) to present a gauntlet of crisis sequences. The story feels as paradoxically vast and claustrophobic as space itself. So much happens and so little happens. Without spoiling too much, it is fair to say that the set up from the trailer, which showcased a collision in space and astronauts adrift, sets the course for the entire film. Every event leading up to the crash and every event afterward run linearly together in a fluid stream of events. There are no flashbacks or side stories. The entire ninety minute running time occurs amongst the stars.

For all intents and purposes there are only two actors: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. There are a few other supporting roles but the two leads are the only characters of any consequence. Both actors put in highlight reel performances and provide the film with a heart to match all the eye candy. Bullock is the star but Clooney’s performance as a wildly, carefree veteran is what really adds a level of humanity to the story.

How much you enjoy Gravity will largely depend on how much you like watching a movie. This is not the kind of film that makes you forget about the medium and get lost in its story and characters. Gravity demands a kind of cinematic appreciation that is really only relatable to its older brother 2001: A Space Odyssey. A major factor in the enjoyment of the film is marveling at the technique and ambition of the production. The masterful cinematography, editing, design, and direction has no trouble pulling you in, latching you down, and immersing you in the magic on screen but it is worth knowing before starting Gravity that it is an experience in film like few other.

Grade: A

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Film Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is as much responsible for my devotion to film as anything else so I have to admit that when it comes to the director’s Middle Earth saga I come from a position of heavy bias. The Lord of the Rings, in particular 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring was the first time I became enamored with a film at an age where I could be analytical in my passion. There were plenty of films that I loved and devoured ad nauseam as a kid but The Fellowship of the Ring was the first time I really wrapped my head around the fact that it was somebody’s vision, and the hard work of countless talented professionals, that was making this magical world come to life on screen.

I unabashedly adore all of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth work and absolutely love the first two Hobbit movies. While I grant that they are not quite up to the caliber of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I for one will gladly immerse myself in as much of Jackson's Tolkien world as he is willing to create. While making The Hobbit in to a nine hour cinematic experience seems like a definite stretch on paper compared to the three hour running time each of the Lord of the Rings books received, I think Jackson has done an admirable of job filling in the gaps with material that is not only engaging but also substantive.

I especially like the way in which Jackson is setting up continuity between the two trilogies that did not exist in the books. The introduction of Sauron and evident turn of Sauraman are just two threads woven by Jackson to now be part of the entire story. I imagine that the big battle coming at the end of the next film will be significantly altered to set up the proceeding trilogy.  The Lord of the Rings certainly looms large in Jackson's Hobbit but I think it adds a masterful level of cohesiveness in mythology that exceeds the relationship found even between the books.

In The Desolation of Smaug some of the action scenes feel a little bloated and forced, as if there is a stopwatch running for how long we can go without some zany spectacle. The extensive river scene especially feels a little unnecessary. However the lengthy encounter with Smaug the dragon at the end of the film is a highlight of the entire Jackson Tolkien saga even if it is blown out of its humble origins in the book in to wild Hollywood proportion.
My biggest complaint with this second film in The Hobbit trilogy is (almost comically) that it doesn’t have enough Hobbit. Bilbo takes a backseat to the dwarves and elves whose roles are expanded from in the book or in a few instances entirely made up. The best and most iconic scenes, such as the group’s plight in the dark forest Mirkwood and the encounter with Smaug in the mountain bring Bilbo to the forefront and evidence why he is the namesake of the story.

All the technical mastery we have grown to expect from Peter Jackson is on display. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack is bombastic, the performances inspired, and the entire fictional world just seems to buzz with life and depth. Some techniques, such as distant tracking shots of small frames running through fields and up mountains, feel a little customary and almost obligatory. Considering the challenges of executing something on this scale though, when it comes to minor techniques it is understandable to bear in mind the old adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Did The Hobbit need to be three movies? Absolutely not. Would it have been better as one movie? Probably. In the case of Jackson’s Tolkienverse, it evidently doesn’t have to be quality or quantity though – we can have both. The Desolation of Smaug is more of an action focused thrill-ride than its predecessor An Unexpected Journey but also manages to match it in terms of atmosphere and drama. It is a worthy addition to Jackson’s epic Tolkien catalog.

Grade: B-

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Let the Library Check You Out This Valentine's Day

It’s Valentine time and nothing gets one’s heart yearning like a sappy movie. Whether you’re curling up with that special someone or sobbing alone in to a bottle of tequila these are the best movies to pull your heartstrings this Valentine’s Day. 

Say Anything
Say Anything is a defining movie for its generation and is generally considered one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. The scene in which John Cusack lifts the boom box over his head and lets his feelings blare has been parodied and referenced countless times and is one of the most iconic moments in the entire genre. 

The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is unique in that it is equal parts fantasy adventure and romantic comedy. Based on the 1973 novel of the same name, The Princess Bride has established a cult following and become one of the genre’s most championed movies. 

When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally looks at love in the adult world where things are not always neat and precise. The film has become a staple of the genre and helped solidify director Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, Sleepless in Seattle) as a star of the genre. 

Love Actually
Love Actually is generally considered a Christmas movie but its strong heart, big laughs, and unforgettable characters make it the perfect rom-com for any time of year. 

Sixteen Candles
A cult hit with an enduring legacy, Sixteen Candles is the proverbial coming-of-age film that features all the turbulence one would expect on the rollercoaster of young love. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a story of love lost and heartbreak but provides non-stop laughs on our protagonist’s journey back to the light. If nothing else the movie deserves credit for featuring a musical rendition of Dracula. 

Clueless is the definitive film from the “teen movie” genre that was booming at the time of its release in the mid-nineties. The movie is loosely based on Jan Austen’s novel Emma and relays the classic message of loving being found where we least expect it: right under our nose.  

Silver Linings Playbook
In 2012 Silver Linings Playbook surprised critics and audiences to become one of the year’s most acclaimed and awarded films. The movie tells the tale of two dysfunctional, nearly broken individuals who overcome their insecurities and past to become better people together. 

All of these and many more romantic movies are available through the library! 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Friday, February 07, 2014

Blum House Art Show

Enjoy the works of local artists Carrie Hawkins and Terry Pierson during our first ever Art Show at the Historic Blum House! 

Carrie paints whimsical birds and garden themes on found objects such as salvaged wood or jewelry boxes. 

Terry has been exhibiting in the St. Louis area for nearly ten years. From being featured in high-end galleries to participating in street festivals, Pierson strives to present highbrow taste with an accessible pop appeal.

While you're there, enjoy refreshments from the Friends of the Library and the sweet sounds of the music from members of the Collinsville Acoustic Jam. 

Posted by Jessica Lawrence, Librarian