Friday, October 31, 2014

On This Day In...1993

Actor River Phoenix died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23 on this day in 1993. The star of films such as My Own Private Idaho, Stand By MeThe Mosquito Coast, River's acting career began at the age of 10 after a turbulent early childhood thanks to his parents' involvement in the religious/sex cult Children of God. In addition to acting Phoenix was a vegan, an animal rights, an environmental activist, and a dedicated musician whose "little hippie" band Aleka's Attic released a handful of songs on various soundtracks and benefit albums.

Key Library Checkouts:

The Thing Called Love - This was the last film Phoenix completed and it is actually pretty hard to watch knowing of his drug problems. River mumbles through his lines with his head down and eyes half shut as if his character has EV-D68. Making matters worse, the film's story of young musicians trying to make it in Nashville provides material that almost any young actor trying to make it in Hollywood could just crush; it barely even requires acting. Sandra Bullock especially stands out as the character with the most spunk but the least talent.

Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards - Published last year, twenty years after River's death, this biography is comprehensive, well written, and compassionate. A definite must read for Phoenix fans.

Posted by Grahm Underwood, Library Clerk

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Top Ten Best Horror Movie Franchises

The air is getting crisper, the leaves are starting to turn, and Halloween is right around the corner. Countdown to Halloween with us with our picks for the top ten horror movie franchises, then stop in the library to check one out today!

10. Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th is the source for some of the most clichéd horror stereotypes. In nearly every film in the franchise a group of oblivious, lustful teenagers visit Camp Crystal Lake and get picked off in gruesome ways one by one by the hockey mask wearing machete wielding Jason Voorhees. The movies are often intentionally cheesy and sometimes border on outright parody. Through twelve movies Friday the 13th has cemented itself as a B-movie powerhouse with Jason making trips to Manhattan, space, and hell along the way. None of the films are particularly good but in this case that is kind of the point. 

9. Scream
While other films had flirted with it before Wes Craven’s Scream was the first to fully embrace a self aware, sometimes self deprecating humor. The franchise’s niche is messing with horror clichés as in each movie the iconic Ghostface plays upon genre tropes and taunts his victims with horror history. The movies are decent but it’s Ghostface himself who is the real draw – for more than fifteen years now his “screaming ghost” face has been a staple in every store’s Halloween section. 

8. The Mummy
The Mummy has proved one of the most enduring faces of horror for more than half a century now. First appearing in Universal Studio’s The Mummy in 1932 with the legendary Boris Karloff in the title role, the character has gone through numerous incarnations, appearances, and studios. Hammer Studios first rebooted the Mummy with their 1959 film starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and more recently Universal again rebooted the franchise in 1999 with Brendan Frasier in the lead role. The recent Mummy films have essentially been action movies but have nonetheless managed to keep the series alive and relevant. 

7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might very well be the most horrifying and scary series on this list. Starting in 1974, well before any of its mask wearing slasher peers, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has offered nothing but undiluted terror since its inception. The first film is a true masterpiece of horror and is one that even the most seasoned genre fans might still squirm at the thought of watching  in the dark. After a few wacky sequels the series came back in to its own with the 2003 remake starring Jessica Biel, a film nearly as terrifying and horrific as the original. Unfortunately this year’s less than stellar Texas Chainsaw 3D marked a significant step backwards for the series.

6. Nightmare on Elm Street
In both concepts and execution the Nightmare on Elm Street series is among the most creative and unorthodox horror ever made. The series’ dream world setting allows for just about anything to happen and filmmakers have stretched their imaginations to often silly lengths for new shocking ways for their sleepy victims to meet their demise. Lead antagonist Freddy Krueger has endured nearly thirty years as one of the most recognizable characters in horror with his scarred face, striped sweater, brown hat, and blade fingers. None of the films have been anywhere near the quality of the original 1984 masterpiece but the series has at least continued to move in interesting, unpredictable directions (except for the disastrously boring 2010 remake).  

5. Evil Dead
Evil Dead is unique even amongst its B-movie peers. The series has run the gauntlet from outright horror to slapstick comedy and back again across only four movies. The wise cracking, chainsaw-for-a-hand Ash played by cult legend Bruce Campbell offers something not common in these types of films: a superhero. The second film perhaps best bridges the franchise’s horror and comedy with the third being nothing short of a parody and this year’s remake reversing all the way back to its grizzly, gruesome roots. The classic setting of a haunted cabin in the woods has never been captured so perfectly in any other film.

4. Halloween
John Carpenter’s original Halloween is the granddaddy of slasher horror. Preceded only by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hitchcock’s Psycho, Halloween inspired an entire genre of copycats in the 80s including Friday the 13th. The first film is widely regarded as one of the all time horror greats and the direct sequel is solid but unfortunately from there the series descends into a slew of lackluster sequels. It wasn’t until Rob Zombie’s reboot in 2007 that the franchise got back on its feet but luckily Zombie’s film is one of the best remakes ever made.

3. Dracula
Dracula is one of those rare characters that are so iconic there is little that can be said about them. The first film to bear the name was Universal Studio’s 1932Dracula starring Bela Lugosi as the Count and this incarnation has remained the most enduring image of the character. However it was the silent film Nosferatu in 1925 that first took inspiration from Bram Stoker’s novel and actor Max Schrek’s appearance as “Count Orlok” has made a bit of a comeback in recent years. Hammer Studios picked up the franchise in 1958 with Christopher Lee making his first appearance as the fanged nightmare. Lee would go on to play Dracula in six more Hammer films – a record number of appearances for an actor in the role. There have been countless other movies starring the character, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s version in 1992 starring Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and Keeanu Reeves as well as Wes Craven’s disappointing Dracula 2000.

2. The Living Dead
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 is without doubt one of the most influential and widely copied films ever made. Before Romero brought us the undead, shambling, hungry-for-brains zombies that are so popular today zombies in films had still always been associated with voodoo or witchcraft; more brain-dead servants than brain-hungry monsters. Romero continued the modern zombie revolution ten years later with 1978’s excellent Dawn of the Dead. This entry ratcheted up the violence and brought the rotting grave walkers in to color for the first time. Romero’s films are characterized by social messages and topical references and while each entry has marked a decline in quality for the series (all the way up to 2009’s abysmal Survival of the Dead) the franchise has at least retained what sets it apart and makes it significant. 

1.  Frankenstein
If there is one face of horror more enduring and iconic than Dracula it is his longtime pal Frankenstein. The first film was released in 1931 and is credited with launching the entire Universal Monsters brand. If not for the overwhelming success of James Whale’s Frankenstein there may never have been a Dracula, Wolf-Man, Mummy, or any of the other immortal monsters offered by the studio. The first film remains to this day arguably the best horror movie ever made while others will contend that same point for its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. There have been more than fifty films to feature the character since and an infinite amount of appearances in cartoons, shopping aisles, and on candy wrappers have assured the green faced goblin’s immortal standing in the horror hall of fame.

Halloween is the time for horror. Whether you like scaring yourself silly with the most intense picture you can find or sitting back with an oldie just to get your fill of shadows and cobwebs, make sure to find some time for the ghosts and ghouls this time of year! 

Written by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

*This list was originally published last year on the Collinsville Library blog.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Brief History of Xbox

              Microsoft made a foray into the gaming world in 2001 with its first system, Xbox.  Even more than the PlayStation, the Xbox was touted as an adult gaming machine. Most of the system’s notable titles were rated Mature and even the box’s bulky shape, rough patterns, and stark green and black color contrast contributed to its edgy persona. Released just three days before Nintendo’s Gamecube, Microsoft aggressively assailed Nintendo as a “kiddie” console and looked to cut in to Sony’s reputation as the mature alternative.
                The Xbox was released alongside a (at the time) little known title called Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo is a first-person shooter (FPS) in which the player interacts with the world through the point of view of the character and the game play revolves around fast paced, tense shootouts. There had been first-person shooters before, notably Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, but Halo would go on to be a revolution in mainstream gaming and an entertainment juggernaut.
                Xbox was one of the first game consoles to feature online capabilities and it indisputably did more to advance this trend than anyone else with its Xbox Live service. Xbox Live is a subscription service through which users can play any of the system’s games online as well as download new content for those games after their initial release. It also operates as a virtual hub with access to nearly limitless digital media including movies, music, and games. In subsequent years, Xbox Live has evolved into a a sort of home media mothership with possible connectivity to other media services like Netflix and YouTube. Streaming services, movie rentals, apps, social networking, and even exclusive, independently produced games are just part of what Xbox Live offers today. Back in 2002, Xbox Live’s ability for players to easily and smoothly play competitive games such as first person shooters and sports titles, with convenient features like voice chat and friend lists, alone produced a new standard for online gaming.
                The Xbox would outperform the Gamecube but never come close to reaching the Playstation 2 in total sales. Still, the system was considered a success and powerfully established Microsoft as a force in the video game market.. With a successful first system and the company’s bottomless coffers behind it, the Xbox brand was just getting started.
                The Xbox 360 released in 2005 and cemented Microsoft as a top dog in the industry. While its success was partially eclipsed by Nintendo’s phenomenon the Wii, the 360 would claim the mature gaming crown from Sony’s PlayStation 3 and, largely through the evolution of Xbox Live, present the brand as the leader in gaming trends and culture. The Xbox 360 was received especially well in North America and with titles like Halo 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and Gears of War, coupled with the system’s advanced online capability, the Box endeared itself to “hardcore” and competitive gamers like no other system.
                Even while the Xbox 360 is still alive and well (and will be until at least 2016 according to Microsoft), its newer, more powerful predecessor, the Xbox One, is now the flagship system for Microsoft. The Xbox One, in addition to standard enhancements such as improving graphical capabilities, expands upon the 360’s focus on the Live service and the motion sensing technology known as Kinect. The Xbox One took a nasty beating in its nearly concurrent release against its most direct competition the PlayStation 4 but it is not yet even a year old and is consistently gaining ground on Nintendo’s Wii U. Compared to Sony and Nintendo Microsoft might still be the new kid on the block but Xbox is already a proven rival peer and certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Review- Before Amen

Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer by Max Lucado

It is hard for me to imagine that I would ever be disappointed by a book by Max Lucado.  I have read all of them and enjoyed each one very much until now.  In his newest book, Before Amen, Lucado explores the power of a simple prayer.  While I agree with the author that prayer is indeed powerful and that God answers prayer, this work comes very close to promising that the book's "pocket prayer" is virtually guaranteed to get an answer.  This led not only to my disappointment but also may lead the reader to a misunderstanding of the nature of prayer and the ways God answers.

Still, there are some gems in this book.  Lucado uses his own relationship with his daughter to point out how God invites us to approach Him as little children approach their own parents with complete trust.  Kids ask because they understand that their parents are usually good to them.  We as God's creation ask Him because He is good, and able to provide all that we need.  Many of us are most likely to pray when we or one of our loved ones is sick.  We pray, "Lord heal me, heal him/her."  Lucado points out that Jesus hears these prayers, is moved by these prayers, and answers them with immediate healing, gradual healing, or, for those who have faith in Him, ultimate healing.

This idea of ultimate healing leads nicely into the chapter on forgiveness.  In a brief, clear look at the Day of Atonement ritual of Judaism, Lucado illustrates how the guiltless scapegoat takes away the sin of the sinful.  Lucado encourages us to place our sin on the true sin-bearer and be assured that our sin is forgiven.  In the chapter "They Need Help," Lucado uses several examples from scripture to illustrate the importance of praying for others and for being persistent in those prayers.  In another (rather disappointing) chapter Lucado provides an alphabetical list of things that he is thankful for.  The encouragement to be thankful in all things and at all times is well taken, but the method comes off as gimmicky.  In the final chapter, Lucado explains why so many of our prayers are offered in Jesus' name.  It is a good reminder of the power and privilege we have because of Jesus.

This book, like many of Lucado's previous works, comes with an included study guide written by Lucado's daughter.  The study encourages the reader to delve deeper into each chapter by using the acronym "P.R.A.Y." (Personalize, Reflect, Abide, and Yield).  The acronym tool was not my favorite, but the study itself includes many helpful Bible verses to explore and some good questions to help the reader develop a richer prayer life.

If you are looking for a quick introduction to prayer, then Before Amen may be of some help.  For a true Lucado treatment of prayer, though, I recommend The Great House of God, which is an excellent study of the Lord's Prayer.

Submitted by Jim Ritter, Library Clerk

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Seven Questions with Staff - Jim

Today's installment of our "Seven Questions with Staff" series features Jim. Jim has worked at the library since May 2009, but he enjoys reading, walking and watching sports - especially college football and the Chicago Blackhawks - in his spare time. Jim is married and has five children and one grandchild. We hope that you learn something new about Jim from his answers to our questions!

Q: How would you describe the place where you grew up?
A: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is a large city of nearly 1 million people located 500 miles north of Great Falls, Montana. It started as the "Gateway to the North" during the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890's and grew rapidly with the oil boom in the 1950's. It does reach 40-below-zero most winters and into the low 90's in the summer. Many years there is snow on the ground from November through March.

Q: What's your favorite book of the Bible and why?
A: The Gospel of Mark has been a favorite of mine for some time, perhaps because it was the first book I did extensive study in.

Q: What's the best advice that you've ever received?
A: Do not be so busy looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you fail to see the beauty of the rainbow that is leading you there.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do at the library?
A: I enjoy being able to help people, whether it is in the Computer Lab, finding a book or answering a question.

Q: What's the perfect pizza?
A: Having spent 10 years in Chicagoland, I have had some great pizza. I like thin crust with light sauce and Italian Sausage - the true Chicago style pizza.

Q: Who are a few of your favorite authors?
A: While Max Lucado is my favorite, lately I have enjoyed several of the Monk mysteries by Lee Goldberg.

Q: What is your favorite thing about fall?
A: I love the wonder and the beauty of the change of seasons. I enjoy ducks and geese (Canada Geese, especially), and this time of year provides many opportunities to see these majestic birds on their journey south.

Posted by Jed Robbins, Library Assistant

Italian Fest Parade 2014

Staff and Board members from the Mississippi Valley Library District recently had the opportunity to walk in Uptown Collinsville's Italian Fest Parade. They handed out books and bookmarks along the route and promoted the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Collinsville Library.

Posted by Jed Robbins, Library Assistant

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Did You Know That...?

  • On the second Wednesday of each month, you can stop by the Blum House between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM for free music by the Collinsville Ramblers.
  • We have a weekly Baby Boogie program for babies and toddlers.  Stop by on Wednesdays at 9:30 AM to listen to music and dance along--we may just make our own music, too!
  • A student from SIUE is here every Monday and Wednesday night between 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM to assist students in grades K-12 with homework assignments and reading coaching.  Miss Morgan is available on a first come, first serve basis and works for America Reads, a federal work-study program.
  • The History and Genealogy Club of Collinsville meets at the library on the fourth Thursday of each month at 6:00 PM.  Family historians of all ages and experience levels are invited to join this group to share successes, ask for advice, and learn about the variety of resources available to those discovering the roots of their family trees.
  • Anyone interested in natural healing can join the monthly Herbal Remedies Workshops on the fourth Wednesday of each month.  Community herbalist Kristine Brown helps you discover the vast wealth of nature's remedies at 6:30 PM at the Blum House.
  • Children ages 3 through 3rd grade can enjoy bedtime stories in their PJs every Monday evening at 6:30 PM.  Pajamas are encouraged!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

On This Day In...1997

Gul Mohammed of New Dehli, India died at the age of 40 on this day in 1997.  Standing just 1 foot 10 inches tall, Gul held the world record for being the shortest verified adult human being at the time of his death.  Heavy smoking by Gul led to the respiratory complications that caused his death.  In 2012 a new world record holder was announced, the 1 foot 9.5 inch tall Chandra Bahadur Dangi.

Key Library Checkouts:

Guinness World Records--These fascinating annual reference books are wildly popular, and the latest 2015 edition will be available for checkout soon.

Posted by: Grahm Underwood, Library Clerk