Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I am a big fan of the filmmaker David Lynch, whose dark, surreal films are admittedly not everyone’s cup of coffee, but those who respond to his work almost inevitably become Lynch completists and develop a need to know everything they can about where these dark dreamlike works of art come from. So after watching Lynch’s latest film, the somewhat baffling INLAND EMPIRE, I was happy to find Greg Olsen’s exhaustive examination of Lynch and his work Beautiful Dark available through MelCat. For nearly 700 pages, Olson satisfies any Lynch fans need to know with great detail about and interpretation of each of Lynch’s film projects. Olson outlines the ties between Lynch’s artistic and personal lives in a way that gives a very complete picture of Lynch and his unique artistic vision.
Many of us loved the Terminator series that was recently finished with Terminator: Salvation (with the possibly exception of Terminator 3). We knew these films had some hints of philosophical themes, especially time travel and artificial intelligence; but what Terminator and Philosophy shows us is that it has many more deep issues than we were aware, ranging from morality, marxism, and fate, to Descartes, Camus, Hobbes and Hegel.
What is a person? What makes a person different from other living things?... from machines? Could the machines in Terminator be considered people? From the T101's perspective (Arnauld), he seems just as human as Sara and John Conner. After all, he can do almost anything they can. This resembles a theory of personhood brought forth by Alan Turing, who thought that if a machine could "trick" you into thinking it was a person, then the machine is a person. From Sara's perspective, machines are nothing but soulless fakers that carry out pre-determined commands. This resembles Rene Descartes' idea that a person is defined by having a soul, or "inner principle" of thought, which has private conscious experiences. And John Conner seems to hold a middle position of understanding, shown by his constant attempts at teaching the T101 how to be a person.
Is it right to commit a wrong for the greater good?...or are there some things you simply cannot do? Here we explore the moral theories of Benthem and Mill's utilitarianism and Kant's deontology. Sara, especially in her plot to kill Dyson and Skynet, agrees with utilitarianism that sometimes the "end justifies the means." But John, like a good Kantian, sees that murder is never justified--"you just can't go around killing people!".
Among other themes are the Marxist idea that technology, when only backed by greed and profit, will lead to the conclusion of capitalism and the destruction of our race; and the conflict over fate and free will, and whether the future can actually be changed; and Hegel's idea that history is determined by the unfolding of the "Gist," or mind.
Terminator and Philosophy
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi and Ron Barrett, has been around since 1978, but the land of Chewandswallow, where the sky rains breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, is still captivating to my favorite five year old. Of course the plot (or soup) thickens when the weather spins out of control with, naturally, giant meatballs crashing all over town. What could be more fun than a child giggling over a book, except maybe an adult giggling along with him?
This book offers lots of opportunity for young imaginations. What kind of food would YOU like to have fall from the sky? What really does fall from the sky? What would YOU do if a giant pancake fell on YOUR school??
And good news for all you film buffs: Sony Pictures Animation is scheduled to release a 3-D film based on the book on September 18, 2009. It is both homage to and send up of disaster movies. Voices include Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, and Tracy Morgan. Just click on their names to see videos in KPL’s collection that feature these stars.
Ready to giggle?
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
I have loved Neil Gaiman's Coraline since it was published in 2002. The cover art was too scary for me, so I had to avoid looking at it as I read the book. I went to see the movie (in 3D!) this weekend and it made me appreciate the book even more. A few fun nods to Michigan added to the movie's charm (producer Bill Mechanic's an MSU grad), and the voice of Teri Hatcher makes for a sickly sweet Other Mother. If I had my way, the soundtrack would have included more music from They Might Be Giants but the movie almost lived up to my imagination.
I stood in line to see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” when it opened at the Rave Theater on December 25. Quirky, funny, sad and sweet — with occasional sentimentality that I overlooked due to the very fine acting. A little bit “Big Fish,” a trace of “Forrest Gump.”
The movie is loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his Tales of the Jazz Age collection. Very loosely based. Screenwriter Eric Roth took the idea of aging in reverse and ran with it. There’s not much else that resembles Fitzgerald’s work. (The movie’s leading female character is named Daisy, a nod to Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan from his great novel The Great Gatsby.)
So, lest you think that seeing the movie counts as having read the story or having read Fitzgerald, think again. I like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories — “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “Winter Dreams” are excellent, but I don’t think “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of his strongest.
Do delve into his stories if you’ve never read them. Of course, if you’ve never read Fitzgerald at all, then go straight to The Great Gatsby — now. Fitzgerald’s sharp observations about people and class will never go out of style.
F Scott Fitzgerald
They may have passed on in 2008 but their life's work will continue to resonate from the books, films and cd's by and about them.
Robert Rauschenberg (Artist)
Harold Pinter (Writer, Actor, Political Activist)
Paul Newman (Actor)
David Foster Wallace (Writer)
Heath Ledger (Actor)
Tim Russert (Journalist)
Bobby Fischer (Chess Player)
Arthur C. Clarke (Writer)
Sidney Pollock (Actor, Director)
Eartha Kitt (Actor, Singer)
Isaac Hayes (Musician)
Robert Rauschenberg : breaking boundaries
Steve Lopez, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was rounding a busy street corner, when beautiful violin music caught his attention. He discovered a man in tattered clothing, playing a beaten-up, two-stringed violin. Sensing a column topic, Lopez struck up a tentative acquaintance with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, former Juilliard School of Music student, now living on the streets of L.A., coping his best with the effects of schizophrenia.
Thus began a life-changing friendship between the two men, which Lopez chronicles in The Soloist: a Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. The movie of their story appears in theatres in March, 2009.
The Soloist: a Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
Most comic book geeks (myself included) were thrilled at the sight of the trailer for Watchmen at the opening of The Dark Knight a few weeks ago. However, I'm more than a little wary of the upcoming adaptation, as spectacular as the trailer looks. Considered unfilmable ever since it's 1986 serialization, Watchmen isn't just a comic book, it's a meta-commentary on the very idea of superhero comics and presents some real challenges to a filmed version.
On a surface level, it's exactly what it appears to be: Set in an alternate 1985 where costumed superheroes actually exist and the United States and Soviet Union are perched at the brink of all-out nuclear war, Watchmen begins as a simple investigation into the murder of a superhero and ends up (in true comic book fashion) leading to a far more sinister conclusion. On a deeper level, however, Watchmen deconstructs the entire superhero genre and readers' preconceptions of how comics work: The "heroes" of the story are either impotent or psychotic, the villain's actions are driven by fundamentally noble desires, and the only character with truly superhuman powers is completely detached from the rest of humanity. Stuffed full of circular and self-referential passages, and written in a gritty, morally ambiguous style, Watchmen transformed mainstream comics almost overnight.
The biggest problem with a Watchmen movie lies in the idea that the story functions as a commentary of comics using the comics medium itself. It remains to be seen if the filmmakers can pull off the same trick with the film medium.
I wish I could have seen the exhibit for Kadir Nelson presented by Calvin College. It was held in conjunction with Festival of Faith and Writing and was called Beauty of the Spirit: Paintings and Illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Kadir Nelson gave new life to Ellen Levine’s edition of Henry’s Freedom Box with his detailed illustrations. Kadir showed the sorrow and pain, happiness, hard work and determination in Henry’s story. In Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom Carole Boston Weatherford tells of the struggle of slave life while Kadir does a fantastic job of illustrating the determination for freedom from it. He has illustrated books for Debbie Allen, Spike and Tonya Lee and Jerdine Nolen. And Kadir knows Hip Hop as you can see from the work he has done with Hip Hop artists like Tupac& Biggie, NeoSoul, Ecay Uno and others in the entertainment industry. He did art work for the movie Spirit, stallion of Cimarron. Now he is the author of his own book We Are the Ship:the story of Negro League baseball. But what I like most are the old time portraits that portray a lot of character in the faces, body, hands and feet. Check Kadir Nelson out and see how well he does the future and the past!
Henry's Freedom Box
Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah was born with only one fully-functional leg, in Ghana, where 10% of the population is living with a disability, often cast away from their families and forced to beg for survival. Though his father left after his birth --fearing his son’s disability meant the whole family had been cursed--Emmanuel was lucky to have a mother and extended family, who supported him to get an education and believe in himself. Using a bike received from a grant, he rode across Ghana, to change societal attitudes about people living with disabilities and to encourage other disabled people in his country.
Watch Emmanuel’s Gift to learn about his amazing journey and how he continues to change lives and public policy in his home country and around the world.