Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


Leave a comment

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Assassin’s Creed, for those unfamiliar, takes the player into the past to relive the memories locked within their DNA and passed down from their ancestors. For the first several games you travel into this world with the help of Desmond Miles, a modern day assassin with genetic ties to many important figures within the history of the Assassin’s Brotherhood. He is being forced to relive these memories by Abstergo, a mega conglomerate that is a front for the Knights Templar.

You don’t need to know that to watch Assassin’s Creed. We pick up with a brand new protagonist: Calum “Cal” Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender. Little is shared about Cal’s backstory outside of the events that start off the film. He’s not necessarily a likable character, being on death row when we first meet him, but you quickly begin to wonder about his past and be a bit concerned for him as he is brought in by Abstergo to help them test their Animus project and delve into the history of his own ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha.

It’s at this point that the story really picks up the pace. Cal is placed into the Animus and his ancestor’s memories play before him. He must keep up with Aguilar and not stray from the path that he took. Doing so would risk desynchronization, which could lead to ejection from the Animus, insanity, or even death.

Aguilar lived in 15th Century Spain, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. We see him and the other members of the Assassin’s Brotherhood fighting against troops led by Torquemada – a member of the Templar Order, of course – to keep an item of great power out of their hands.

While the present day story line is interesting, the historical aspect is what screams Assassin’s Creed about this film. Watching Fassbender (who also plays Aguilar) running through the streets of Seville in 1491 to escape Torquemada’s men is fast paced, heart pounding action that could keep nearly anyone entertained. The series has always been known for their use of Parkour or Free running, which is predominantly displayed through the ancient city.

Overall, as an Assassin’s Creed mega fan with high expectations, I was entertained and enjoyed the film. There were enough differences from the games that it felt like something that was new and it’s own instead of a game sequel. Was it the best movie of 2016? No. Will I re-watch it anyway? Absolutely, and for that reason I will gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun movie.


Leave a comment

2016 Year in Review

2016favorites-tinypng

2016 has been a good year for our blog; hits and comments are up from last year. We hope our spot in cyberspace has helped someone out there find a really good book or movie to enjoy.

Listed here are our favorite books, movies, and music that we enjoyed in 2016. While some of these titles aren’t new this year, it’s never too late for a good recommendation.

First, the 2016 favorites from our patrons. These stats were collected from checkouts countywide.

Most checked out fiction book:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Most checked out nonfiction book:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Most checked out DVD:
Downton Abbey Season Six

And now staff shares their favorite books, movies, and music that they loved in 2016.

Cathy
Book: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music: Blackstar by David Bowie

Toni
Book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Movie: Moana
Music: The Hamilton Mixtape by various artists

Andrew
Book: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman
Movie: The Nice Guys
Music: Emotional Mugger by Ty Segall

Mike
Book: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
Movie: Race
Music: “Growing Up” from the album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

AnnMarie
Book: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Movie: Zootopia
Music: “Don’t Wanna Fight” from the album Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Bret:
Book: Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Erin
Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Dave
Book: Fool by Christopher Moore

Bonnie
Book: Pure by Julianna Baggot

Tony
Book: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Beth
Book: Bindi Babes by Narinder Dham

Bonus:
Looking to read more books in 2017? Joining a reading challenge is a great way to stay motivated and read a wider range of authors and subjects. There are many challenges out there, but this Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges is very comprehensive. Prepare to be literally inspired.

Happy New Year 2017, everyone!


Leave a comment

Independence Day (1996)

independeceWith all my complaining about Hollywood and its seemingly endless stream of mediocre, CGI-driven action flicks, you’d think I’d hate this one. Surely, the guy who posts reviews for aging black and white films from the ’40s could never appreciate the absurd spectacle of something like Independence Day.

Well, you’d be dead wrong.

The world needs silly, witty action spectacles, and therein lies the key difference between something like this and a Taken 3 or Transformers. Crazy action films really benefit from lightheartedness or else they tend to be grim and eyeroll-inducing. The very fate of humanity hangs in the balance in ID4, but the film never feels morose. Instead, there’s plenty of wisecracking, satire, and humorous moments to lighten the mood. Smith, Goldblum, and Quaid can all pull off action sequences with ease, but they’re also talented performers that can sell the more humorous bits of the script. Helping push the action along are the excellent practical effects (explosions!) along with a light touch of CGI. Heck, it even has Brent Spiner playing a slightly deranged scientist. How great is that? Yeah, this one’s kind of jingoistic at times, but it’s too big of a goof to get upset with. Enjoy it this July 4th, preferably with friends.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Independence Day.


Leave a comment

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

zorroMention the word ‘remake’ in the context of modern Hollywood and you’re likely to find yourself on the blunt end of an opinion – or three. It’s not surprising; over the last several years theaters have been inundated with a variety of controversial and sometimes disappointing remakes. Films like Robocop, Point Break, and Godzilla have pushed the remake trend to the extreme and upset many moviegoers along the way with their questionable quality. Things weren’t always like this. Don’t get me wrong, the motion picture industry has a long history of remakes, but maybe the practice wasn’t as cynical and focused on the bottom line. One great example from the golden age of Hollywood? The riveting 1940 remake of The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dashing aristocrat Don Diego Vega (Power) returns from Spain to his native California only to discover that his father, previously the magistrate of Los Angeles, has been replaced by the villainous Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his Captain of the Guard, Esteban Pasquale (Rathbone). To his friends and family, the junior Vega comes off as foppish and uncaring, more interested in the latest Spanish fashions than the suffering of the poor. In reality, Vega has been striking back against the corrupt Quintero by donning a black mask and taking up the sword, becoming the mysterious figure Zorro. The well-being of the peoples of California hang in the balance while Zorro strikes fear into the hearts of their oppressors.

With its rousing swordplay, quick wit, and perfect enunciation, this is classic Hollywood in fine form. Tyrone Power as Zorro cuts a dashing figure, and although he cannot deliver snappy comebacks quite like an Errol Flynn, his talented swordplay more than makes up for it. In fact, Basil Rathbone, who was himself a talented fencer, even stated that “Tyrone Power could fence Errol Flynn into a cocked hat!” The film makes the most of these fine actors by utilizing the talents of Hollywood fencing master Fred Cavens who specialized in staging more realistic fights that eschewed the stylized leaping and furniture-hopping seen previously. The choice works, and every fight feels genuinely dangerous in a way few swordfights from this period do.  Linda Darnell is a perfectly fine heroine, but the actress who really steals the show is Gale Sondergaard playing the sly, conniving Inez Quintero. Her scheming is delightful to watch and makes for some great moments when paired with Power.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mark of Zorro.


Leave a comment

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

draculas daughterDr. Von Helsing can rest easily knowing that Count Dracula is dead for good. The evil vampire was destroyed by Von Helsing’s own two hands (plus a wooden stake), and now London is safe. The matter of his being arrested for the Count’s murder are trivial compared to his great feat. Nevertheless, Von Helsing enlists the help of his former student, psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth, to help build a case for his sanity.

Unbeknownst to Von Helsing, a new terror stalks the night. The beautiful Countess Marya Zaleska desperately wants a normal life, but first she must find a way to stop her cravings for human blood. She eventually turns to Dr. Jeffery Garth for a cure, and she will stop at nothing to get it.

This is not at true “Lesbian Vampire” movie, but it dips its foot in the genre. As a vampire, Countess Zaleska feeds on both men and women. Yes, that is a metaphor. Whatever her meal preferences are, Zaleska’s primary focus remains on her mission: to be content with her life. Everything else falls by the wayside, even the safety of others. Zaleska, played by Gloria Holden, is arguably the best part of the film. She is a brooding and fascinating villain, who the modern viewer will end up rooting for.

The film was made in 1936 and, as a result, is full of out-dated notions about pretty much everything; most egregious is the heavy implication that bisexual women are blood-sucking monsters. Despite this misconception, the film will surely delight and intrigue the viewers who love vampires, old horror movies, or both.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Dracula’s Daughter.


2 Comments

Whiplash (2014)

whiplash-movieDoes one achieve greatness despite adversity, or because of it?

Whiplash is a real-life 1973 jazz tune composed by Hank Levy and performed by Don Ellis and his orchestra. The song is characterized by an up-beat trumpet melody and unconventional 7/4 time signature. It is notorious among jazz musicians for being very difficult to perform, particularly for the drummer.

The song is featured prominently in the movie and represents the brutality, complexity, and rigor the main character must meet head-on in order to succeed.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a freshman drummer at a prestigious music school in New York City, and he has big dreams of becoming the next Buddy Rich. After an awkward encounter with the school’s most feared jazz music teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew is invited to play with the studio band. Whatever small confidence boost Andrew gets from this honor is shattered, however, when Fletcher becomes enraged and physically abusive towards Andrew in front of the entire class. And, even though Andrew practices every day until his fingers literally bleed, the abuse just gets worse. But Andrew refuses to give up.

This is the kind of movie that stayed with me long after I watched it, especially the monologue Fletcher gives toward the end of the movie. He explains that legendary musicians aren’t produced in a vacuum, and adversity—especially from mentors—is the only way good musicians become great.

“I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them,” he says. “I believe that is an absolute necessity […] There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

Now, I still don’t know what to think about this idea. But I really like how David Edelstein puts it in his review of the movie for Vulture:

Whiplash will spark debate—some of it angry—over whether [writer-­director Damien Chazelle] is vindicating Fletcher’s methods, suggesting that only a harsh taskmaster can push Andrew to the next level. I don’t think he’s that conclusive. But he’s certainly leaving the question open. When you read Jan Swafford’s exhaustive new Beethoven biography or listen to world-class musicians or Olympic athletes talk about their driving parents and lack of a “real” childhood, you see how pushing kids to the brink can in some cases pay off. It can also—more often—be inhuman, soul-killing, even criminal; it can screw people up for life.

In any case, this is an emotional story with a great soundtrack.

Rated R for language and violence.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Whiplash.


Leave a comment

Sounder (1972)

sounderPromoted as a family movie, Sounder is a masterpiece of such slow-moving complexity that I think it might be difficult for a child to sit through it all. But this is an excellent film nonetheless with a superb cast and talented director. Just be sure to keep some tissues handy because the story packs an emotional punch.

Sounder is based on a book of the same name by William Armstrong.

In rural, Depression-era Louisiana, 12-year-old David Lee (Kevin Hook) is by far the oldest child of his poor sharecropper family. Poor is an understatement; this family is downright destitute, scraping by on a meager diet of biscuits and gravy as the owners of their farm take virtually all of their regular harvests. Every day David and his father (Paul Winfield) take their loyal dog, Sounder, out hunting for anything that will put meat on the table. But, despite Sounder’s skill, they haven’t caught anything in a long time. One morning, however, David and his siblings awaken to the glorious smell of meat frying. David is instinctively wary of the unexpected gift, and his uneasiness grows as his parents dodge his questions. Soon enough, the police show up and arrest David’s father for petty theft.

As David’s mother, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), struggles with the farm on her own, David is torn between helping his family and getting an education. The film focuses heavily on David’s coming-of-age as the boy encounters oppression and desperately seeks a way to rise above it.

Rated G.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Sounder.