Dance Your Cares Away

Dance is one of man’s oldest forms of art and storytelling, with cave painting depictions going back 30,000 years. Dances occur around the world, in every culture. Some were used for storytelling. Others were used for religious purposes. Some cultures had dances for healing, for appeasing Gods, for weather control, for courting, for festivals and celebrations, and entertaining royalty. Dances were used to teach, as social commentary and rebellion, and sometimes as just plain exercise. Dances can be as low key as the Hokey Pokey, or as tightly regulated and choreographed as grand ballet, or worse, synchronized swimming dances. 

Physically, dancing is wonderful for the body. 

  • It burns calories
  • It improves coordination 
  • It promotes muscle strength and flexibility
  • It’s a weight-bearing exercise, so it’s good for improving joint function and staving off bone loss.
  • It’s fantastic as an aerobic exercise to improve cardiovascular function, circulation, and endurance.  Tap dance for just 10 minutes. Try it. 
  • As an exercise, it can help improve mood and increase endorphin levels in the body, making you happier.
  • There is no age limit on dancing – whether you’re one or one hundred, you can do it! 
  • Disability isn’t an deterrent – many forms of dance can be adapted for people who cannot walk.

And dancing isn’t just for women! Plenty of men have been famous dancers – Rudolf Nuryev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr., John Travolta, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Michael Flatley, and “Gangnam Style’s” Psy, to name just a few.  Dance takes tremendous strength and physical training. Football players take ballet to improve coordination and movement. HipHop is a male-dominated dance field. In ethnic dances around the world, men predominate, from Russian squat dancing to the New Zealand Haka and the Northern Plains Indian Grass Dance, to the Aduma dance of the Masai warriors in Kenya. Dancing, by far, is as much a man’s sport as a woman’s.

If you have to be stuck inside in the winter, why not dance! Throw some fast music on and shake out those winter blues! Throw in a ballet DVD and leap (move the furniture out of the way first!). Or join us for some New England Country Dancing at the library later this month! Don’t feel like moving? Grab a blanket and a cup of tea and check out some of these great books and movies filled with dance!

Saturday Night Fever              A Chorus Line              Dirty Dancing 

The Nutcracker                         All That Jazz                  Billy Elliot

Step Up                                      West Side Story            Oliver!

An American In Paris              La La Land                      Fiddler on the Roof

Swing Time                    Dancer                    A Time to Dance 

Russian Winter             Out Loud               Life in Motion 

The Girls at 17 Swann Street                 Dance in America: A Reader’s Anthology

 

Sci-Fi at the Movies

Harold our sci-fi-guy is going to the movies in today’s blog post!

Science fiction is an extremely popular film and video genre and the Library has a sizeable collection of sci-fi movies, videos, and television programs.

If the Force is with you, you can check out a film from the most successful film series of all times: George Lucas’ Star Wars. The library has every Star Wars movie on DVD.  My favorite is: Episode V, The Empire Strikes BackThe library also has a collection of Star Wars novels that have spun off from the films.

You can share in the voyages of the Starship Enterprise with Star Trek.  The library has many of the Star Trek movies and television shows in their catalog including one of the most acclaimed Star Trek films: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  I enjoy all of them, but one of my favorites is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The library also has the complete first season of the new Star Trek Discovery Series along with a great collection of Star Trek books that span all the Star Trek television series and movies.

If more contemporary science fiction movies are more your style, there are some great ones on the shelves at the Cheshire Public Library. Some favorites:

Arrival debuted in 2016. It stars Amy Adams as a linguistic professor recruited by the U.S. Army to figure out how to communicate with intelligent aliens who have landed on earth. It is based on the 1998 short story Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that is available from the Library as a downloadable audio book. His book of short stories, Exhalation, is also well worth reading.

Ex Machina is a 2014 British science fiction film. IMDB.com says that it is about “A young programmer [who] is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.”

Gravity – This 2013 critically acclaimed film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as American astronauts who are stranded in space because of a Shuttle accident and their attempt to return to Earth. It received 10 Oscar nominations and the Golden Globe Award for Best Director along with the 2013 Ray Bradbury Award.

The Martian – This 2015 film one of my favorites. Directed by Ridley Scott, it is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story about an astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who is stranded on Mars and his efforts to survive. It is based on the book by Andy Weir that is also and available in print and as an audiobook at the library.

Here are some other great science fiction movies that are available at the CPL:

If you have some favorites that I have missed that are in the library’s collection, let me know and I will add them to a future blog.

 

10 Comedies That’ll Make You Cry

Oh, they’ll sneak up on you. You’ll be chuckling along with a funny movie when suddenly – hey, what’s that lump in your throat all about? They get you when your guard is down, those comedies with little bits of sadness tucked in. If you’re looking for a movie that’ll make you laugh AND tug at your heartstrings, I’ve got just the list for you:

Planes, Trains , and Automobiles. This Steve Martin/John Candy movie could be called an anti-buddy-comedy. Forced by circumstances to travel together (via planes, trains… you can guess the rest) from New York to Chicago at Thanksgiving time, Neal (Martin) can’t wait to be rid of the over-exuberant Del (Candy), but then softens when he learns more of Del’s story.

Big . Tom Hanks plays a boy who wakes up in the body of a grown man. Hanks is adorable as the suddenly “big” Josh trying to navigate in the adult world. Watch out for the ending, though, have tissues ready!

Sideways. Melancholy Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his more gregarious friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church)  through wine country on a buddy-trip before Jack ties the knot. Lots of wine and hi-jinks ensue, revealing much about the lead characters. Miles can be a real “Debby Downer”, which is played to comedic effect, but some of the realizations on this boy’s trip are a little more melancholy.

The Bucket List. Ok, with a title like this you could probably guess that something sad might be on the horizon. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman mine the situation laughs, though, as a billionaire and a mechanic who share a hospital room after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Working on a list of things they want to do before they die becomes a healing exercise for both.

Click. Wait, this is an Adam Sandler movie. There’s no crying in Adam Sandler movies! Well, get ready to be proven wrong. In this movie Sandler plays a workaholic husband and father who finds a remote control device that lets him pause, fast-forward, and rewind events in his life.  Of course, he comes to many realizations, mainly that the things that he thought were important in his life, aren’t.

In Bruges. This comedy about a suicidal hit man is admittedly pretty dark, but the writing and performances in this film really pull you in, and the scenes between the hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) and his partner (Brendon Gleeson) can be particularly affecting.

Little Miss Sunshine. Dysfunctional family road trip! Everyone is this family has issues, but they all pile into a barely-working van to drive young Olive (wonderfully played by Abigail Breslin) to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine contest. Funny moments are peppered with poignant ones, and you’re bound to tear up at least once along the way.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Another road trip movie. Why are road trips the perfect vehicle for sad comedies? In this one, an unstoppable asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and certain annihilation. What to do in the days you have left? One man (Steve Carrell) decides to drive off and find his high school sweetheart before the world ends. He’s joined on his quest by his quirky neighbor (Keira Knightly), and hilarity ensues. But there’s still that asteroid out there…

WALL-E. In this animated movie from Pixar, WALL-E is a trash-collecting robot on a deserted and ravaged planet Earth. After years alone on the planet, another robot suddenly appears,  giving WALL-E a new purpose. Funny and endearing, you’ll root for the little guy as he tries to interact with his environment and save the future of the planet.

Up. All right, Pixar, enough with the heartstring-pulling! A retired balloon salesman rigs up his house with thousands of balloons, and he (and his house) sail off into the sunset. Except he has a stowaway, an eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer Scout named Russell. The unlikely duo have many adventures along the way, and of course learn many valuable lessons about life and love.

 

Book Review: Creativity, Inc

 

Every once in a while you come across a book you would never attempt to read but for some stupid reason you do, and you are so thankful you did. This is one of those times.

While researching material on writing, I came across a recommendation for a book, and I kind of scratched my head. This was a book on business, and there was just no way I would read a book on business – my eyes would glaze in the first page, the same way they do if someone is talking actuarial tables or student loan forms. What could such a book have to do with writing? It just so happened the library had a copy I was able to grab. And that book, despite being a couple of years old (2014), is the best book I have read so far this year.

Creativity, Inc. is written by Ed Catmull,  who was part of the driving force behind Pixar Studios, the film company known for making ground-breaking and award-winning (and record-breaking, with more than 14 Billion dollars in revenue) animated films, such as Toy Story, Monsters,Inc, A Bug’s Life, and more. When Pixar and Disney merged in 2006, he applied his same priciples to the flagging animation department at Disney, who hadn’t had a hit in 16 years. Disney shot right back up with films like Wall-E, Cars, Incredibles, Coco, Brave, etc. To read this book is to relive the last 30 years of animated film making. If it’s not a walk down memory lane for your childhood, it is a reminder of all the wonderful films you saw with your children. If you haven’t enjoyed any of them, run and grab one today. 

What is Catmull’s secret? Of course a strong bottom line is what investors want, and Catmull agrees, but he refuses to allow the creativity of the artists to be stymied in any way. There are no superstars – not even preferred parking. Everyone from the janitor to the lunch lady to the writer is allowed equal – respected – input. Employees are encouraged to do what it takes to keep happy and relaxed, because happy employees are productive employees. They are encouraged to take time for classes offered at work – art, archery, whatever. If they are producing a film in Africa, a team of writers and artists will take a field trip to Africa and experience what they are trying to portray. Films, from first idea pitch to final cut – are brought up for constant, honest review, where the ensemble team toss ideas off each other about the work, good or bad, and the film may take a twist for the better from it. Every artist is respected every step of the way. Written into the contracts is a proviso that if a film reaches a certain amount of return, a portion of that is given to the employees as a bonus.

Needless to say, Pixar and Disney Animation staff are  happy to go to work. 

So, how did that all relate to writing?

Remember that movies start as stories. Someone has to write them before they can be filmed. By keeping an atmosphere that encourages creativity, no matter how odd (come on – talking cars? Emotions? Bugs? A rat who likes to cook? ), by immersing yourself in a creative environment, by learning to take constructive criticism without imploding, you become a better writer. A writer needs feedback as they develop ideas, as they write the ideas, as they polish their ideas into a final copy.  

This book was a joy to read. Grab it, read it, whether you’re looking for a business model to follow, as a manager looking to improve productivity, as an artist looking for appreciation, as a movie person wanting to know more about Pixar and Disney films. It’s all there. 

Be amazed at the process, and then check out one of the masterpieces Catmull’s presided over. Wall-E, Coco and Up are perfect for adults!

The Incredibles   –  Ratatouille  –  Cars  –  Shorts Finding Dory  –  Wall-E   

Inside Out –  Brave  –  Monsters, Inc  –  Toy Story  –  Coco  –  Up

Unusual Sports Movies

There are only two days a year when no major sports games are held: the day before baseball’s Major League All-Star Game, and the day after.  On every other day of the year, a major sporting event occurs somewhere in the country. Indeed, there are only 26 days a year when the PGA is not on tour, 51 days without tennis, and 95 days without a NASCAR event. Many sport seasons overlap – baseball ends long after football starts, basketball begins during football, and hockey runs long after baseball starts.

I’m not a huge sports fan. Sure, I grew up watching Wide World of Sports, but our family sport was Indy car racing, and if you practice that, police get annoyed. I earned an inter-dorm basketball championship shirt in college, but that was because we won three games by default, and yes, I watch two full weeks of the Olympics each time.

But for some unknown reason, I do like movies about sports. And there are a plethora of really good ones. Every sport has a loyal following, and some sports are more of a specialty than others (there aren’t many mainstream martial arts films beyond The Karate Kid,  and when I thought of skiing movies and thought of The Other Side of the Mountain (yeah, I’m old) and Eddie the Eagle real skiers have movies no one in the average  theater knows of), but no matter what the sport, there’s at least one film about it (Cool Runnings not withstanding).

Best of the Best

Ten films are on almost every Best Sports Movie list available. They’re grade-A movies that can make even the non-sportsman cheer for the underdog:
Hoop DreamsField of Dreams   / Moneyball  /  Bull Durham  /  Rocky   Rudy  /  Caddyshack   / 
Raging Bull  /  Tin Cup  /   Million Dollar Baby

Wider World of Sports

Yes, you say, but three of those are boxing movies. I’m a competitive swimmer. Then check out The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster. If you want a top-rated movie for a sport without a weekday TV contract, try:

Golf: Caddyshack (no matter what list you look at, golfers insist this is THE best golf movie, but check out Tin Cup or The Legend of Bagger Vance for something more serious).
Tennis: Borg vs. McEnroe Battle of the Sexes
RunningJericho Mile, Chariots of Fire   

Skiing: Deep and Light
Martial Arts: Drunken Master II (Jackie Chan)
Auto racing: Days of Thunder,  Rush

Soccer: Pele: Birth of a Legend, Bend it Like Beckham
Billiards: The Hustler
Ice Skating: The Cutting Edge,  Ice Castles I, Tonya

Hockey:  Miracle, Slap Shot, Mystery Alaska
Surfing: Soul Surfer, Blue Crush

Horseracing: Seabiscuit
Weightlifting: Pumping Iron (the absolute classic!)
Rodeo: The Electric Horseman 8 Seconds  

Killer Roller Skating: Rollerball Whip It
Dodgeball: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story  
Apocalyptic ManhuntingThe Running Man,  The Hunger Games

Always Broom for One More

And Quidditch? Yes, that crazy game from Harry Potter is a real modern-day Muggle sport. Quidditch was first played on the campus of Middlebury College in 2005, with actual world championships (but no flying on the brooms), and there is still a push to make Quidditch an Olympic sport. Or you can follow Connecticut Quidditch teams at Yale, UConn, or Quinnipiac to watch live action on the pitch.  (Yes, I’m serious. My daughter’s team ranked 22nd in the world).

Don’t pay those exorbitant stadium prices or suffer through repetitive commercials! Grab your beer or bottled water, your popcorn or your Ball Park Frank, and cheer for your favorite sport with one of these awesome sports films!