Strange Characters: The Cinematic Pairings of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp

Photo taken from MTV.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Tim Burton

Photo taken from MTV.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Tim Burton

In anticipation of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes coming out on Christmas Day, I’ve been having my own Burton retrospective and recently watched Edward Scissorhands for the umpteenth time.  With this film, Burton found a kindred spirit in Johnny Depp that has survived over two decades and has resulted in some of Burton’s best-known films. While he isn’t in Big Eyes, Depp has starred in eight of Burton’s seventeen films. That is, when he isn’t busy making drunken appearances at awards shows or getting fossils named after him.

Below is my much mulled-over ranking of those eight Burton/Depp cinematic pairings.

8. Dark Shadows (2012)

This film had the potential to be a hit.  On paper, a film about a dysfunctional family with a vampire patriarch is right in Burton’s wheelhouse. And besides, both he and Depp both had a fondness for the soap opera from which the movie was based.   Sadly, that passion is never present on-screen.  While Burton has previously struck a wonderful balance with macabre humor and black comedy, he falters and stumbles here.  Perhaps it was the audience’s vampire fatigue or the overwhelming presence of the juggernaut known as The Avengers, but the film only grossed just over half of its production budget.  This film, along with the next one, really made me question whether or not Burton and Depp’s artistic relationship had grown stagnant.

7. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The movie that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide also has a 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so make of that what you will.  One would think that it would be a visual treat, but it’s apparent the actors are acting against a green screen for most of the film. The backgrounds look flat and lifeless and that’s exactly how I’d summarize the entire film—flat and lifeless.  It’s truly saying something when the scenes that take place before Alice falls down the rabbit hole look more vibrant than the scenes in Wonderland Underland.

Giving a plot to a story that famously had no plot could have worked, but Linda Woolverton concocted the most generic chosen-one-must-fulfill-a-prophecy-and-vanquish-evil plot imaginable.  It was doubly disappointing for me because longtime musical collaborator Danny Elfman’s score was one of the best he’s done in recent years.  I listened to the score before I saw the movie and it conjured up images of fantastical epics.  Sadly, the only thing fantastic about the movie is that someone thought it would be a good idea to commit this to film.

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

I remember freaking out when that trailer came out and loved the movie when I saw it, but have since reassessed my opinion of it.  There’s nothing really technically wrong with it, nor is it a bad film; it’s just an unnecessary remake.  Then again, I don’t have an intense fondness tied to the original, despite Gene Wilder’s wonderful turn as the eccentric chocolate maker.  Still, this interpretation is closer to Roald Dahl‘s book and I actually prefer Elfman’s songs to the ones written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.  Wilder’s interpretation was, and still is, iconic, so it was important for Depp to do something completely different in the role.  And, sure enough, he did.  I always felt that it was unfair that Depp’s performance was compared to Michael Jackson.  If you’ll recall, Michael Jackson loved kids.  Willy Wonka hated them and turned them into candy.  Get your facts right, Internet.

What are the top five Burton/Depp movies? Click through to find out!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Sharp Short Stories

Short story collections are a great way to get to know an author, and reading them is a win-win situation: if you enjoy the tales, you can see what else s/he’s written; if you don’t care for them, you haven’t wasted a lot of precious reading time. Short story collections are also a treat for people who already love an author, and are pining away for her/his next novel.

There have been a number of really solid short story collections released this year. Here are three that pair nicely with the cold, dark winter ahead of us.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel. Quiet people leading Mantelquiet lives that suddenly take turns for the uncomfortable, supernatural, or just plain deadly are the meat and potatoes of this collection. They’re all outstanding, but my favorites were “Harley Street,” which, up to the very end, pretends to be one kind of story and then suddenly turns into another; “The Heart Fails Without Warning,” which reads like an homage to Kate Chopin‘s “The Story of an Hour”; and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” which plays fast and loose with English history. Available in print, audio book, eBook, and eAudio.

AtwoodStone MattressMargaret Atwood. Atwood can do terrible just as nicely as Mantel can. However, her terrible tends to have spots of sweetness, melancholy, or other gentler emotions mixed in as well. This tone is set with the fantastical “Alphinland,” which is then followed by two stories that occur in the same universe to the same characters, forming a lovely little world I would’ve liked to see more of. Other highlights include “The Freeze-Dried Groom” (not a metaphor) and “Torching the Dusties,” in which an elderly woman with Charles Bonnet syndrome must flee an attack on her assisted living facility (uncomfortably plausible) with the help of a fellow resident. Available in print, eBook, eAudio, and Playaway.

Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. Rich sticks it to the clueless and the entitled with this richwickedly funny collection of tales, narrated mostly by characters who have no idea how clueless and entitled they are. Rich doesn’t let himself off the hook, either: two of the stories feature a character named Simon Rich who is unpleasant as all get out (one of those tales, “Animals,” is narrated by a classroom’s pet hamster). Other highlights include “Gifted,” which satirizes privileged, pushy parenting, and “Elf on the Shelf” (’tis the season, after all). Available in print only.

Dark fiction for dark nights, in easy-to-read bites!  Are you a fan of the short story form? Who are your favorite authors? Read any good collections lately?

–Leigh Anne

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ask a Librarian

Image credit: Illustration from The Evening Ledger, Philadelphia, 1916

Image credit: Illustration from The Evening Ledger, Philadelphia, 1916

I feel pretty competent when it comes to finding information and locating books that I’m interested in (As a librarian, you’d hope this would be the case, right?!). I love talking with my colleagues in other departments, but rarely ask for help finding things. The other day though, I had an experience that reminded me of how helpful it can be to just ask for assistance, even when you’re pretty sure you can find something on your own.

I was browsing in the Children’s Department for books to take home to my kids. My 2-year old is still pretty easy (books by Rosemary Wells are a safe bet!), but my 4-year old is suddenly very interested in superheroes, particularly Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. However, I usually find that books about those characters are slightly too old for him, or maybe just a little too scary. As I browsed the comics I said hi to the librarian, and when she asked if I needed help I asked her opinion (instead of my usual “Nope, just looking!”). She immediately thought of several books about superheroes that a 4-year old might like: Princess Super KittyTimothy and the Strong Pajamas, and Superdog: The Heart of a Hero. We also found a Superman book that was written for a younger audience. Success!

ask_a_librarian150

In the Reference Services department where I work, people are often reluctant to “bother” us at the reference desk. When people do ask us something, they sometimes apologize or seem a bit reluctant to ask for our help. Those “Ask a Librarian” signs are there for a reason, and we love answering your questions (that’s our job!). We’ll stop and ask if you need help if we find you wandering the stacks with a confused look on your face, but if we haven’t approached you first and you’re feeling stuck, try stopping by a desk with one of those big red signs– we’ll be happy to help you find anything from the newest book in a YA fantasy series to statistics on a neighborhood where you’re thinking of moving to books and articles for your research paper or whatever else you can think of.

-Irene

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Pittsburgh Home Movie Day – November 22, 2014

Do you have any old home movies hiding in the closet or the attic?
When was the last time you took a look at them?
Have you ever wondered how to take better care of them?

Home Movie Day

Disinter some of those old 8mm, Super 8mm and/or 16mm reels and drop by Pittsburgh Home Movie Day 2014 on Saturday afternoon, November 22, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main. Film archivists will be available to give you free advice on the condition of your films and, if possible, we’ll screen them for a local audience interested in YOUR celluloid memories!

If you’re bringing home movies to share, you’re encouraged to drop off your films between  12 PM and 1 PM to have them properly inspected and assessed by our archivists. Or you can drop by any time after 1 PM and have a look at some of the personal treasures other folks in the region have brought to share with you. We’ll be screening continuously until 4:30 PM.

For more on Home Movie Day, visit the Center for Home Movies or contact us directly at homemovieday.pgh@comcast.net.

Saturday, November 22nd
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main
Director’s Conference Room, First Floor
Film drop off: 12 PM to 1 PM
Screenings: 1 PM to 4:30 PM

Pittsburgh Home Movie Day 2014 is sponsored by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and by the Film Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

- Amy

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Exploring the New Star Wars Canon

A New DawnAs a person who has spent a disproportionately large chunk of her childhood (and adulthood) reading Star Wars novels, guidebooks and comics, I was, let’s say, apprehensive when Disney announced they would reset the canon and relabel the “old” novels, comics, video games and other non-movie ephemera as “Legends.”

The purpose of doing this, Disney says, is to ensure that all Star Wars content from here on out will be consistent.

The first novel in this new canon, Star Wars: A New Dawn, came out in the beginning of September. I bought it, like I’ve bought every other Star Wars novel that’s come out since forever, with few exceptions (example: I wasn’t alive in the 1970s when the first Expanded Universe novel, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, came out, and I was only six in the early 1990s when the Expanded Universe began in earnest with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire).

A New Dawn sat on my nightstand for weeks while I looked at it, picked it up, flipped through it and read the jacket copy. I could not bring myself to read it for fear of being horribly disappointed.

When I finally did force myself to begin, I didn’t find some strange and unfamiliar new world, but the same worn-in universe in which I’ve been letting my imagination roam free for, well, most of my life.

Spark of RebellionAs a tie-in to the new animated show Star Wars Rebels, A New Dawn tells the story of how TV show characters Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi apprentice now wandering from one dangerous job to another, and Hera, an agitator for rebellion, meet and deal a significant blow against the Empire.

Written by frequent Star Wars novel and comic author John Jackson Miller, a majority of the tale takes place on a newly-introduced planet named Gorse, which has a moon rich in a substance essential to star ship manufacturing. The Emperor’s efficiency expert Count Vidian is sent to increase production of the substance.

Hera has come to Gorse to learn more about how the Empire is spying on its citizens and to get a closer look at Count Vidian. Kanan is flying mining explosives from Gorse to the moon every day. They meet when a disaffected Clone Wars veteran, Skelly, tries to demonstrate that the moon will be destroyed utterly if mining continues, to disastrous results.

While I wouldn’t call this, or any Star Wars novel, high literature, it is an excellent Star Wars novel and an excellent adventure novel. Its short chapters always end in cliffhangers, pulling you along. The characters feel like real people instead of the caricatures (the hero, the sidekick, the romantic interest, etc.) that sometimes appear in franchise writing.

We learn more of Kanan’s background than Hera’s, but I imagine this will be addressed in either future Rebels tie-in novels or, more likely, the show itself. The novel’s cast is also evenly divided between women and men, with one of the prominent characters even being a woman of color (this kind of equality has been more present in Star Wars novels and comics than Star Wars movies, but I’m still glad to see it continued here).

Star Wars: TarkinThe era between episodes three and four has rarely been touched upon by the Expanded Universe, so Miller’s job in writing this book must have been relatively easy canon-wise. While my opinion of the new canon is rosy so far, none of my favorite “Legends” characters have been written over yet. The next test will be Star Wars: Tarkin, which came out last week. The biggest test, of course, will be Episode VII, the title of which was recently revealed to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So with cautious optimism, I await the next chapter in this new, but strangely familiar, Star Wars universe.

-Kelly

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

CLP Gets To Work

showyourwork-electronic-webbanner

Friday, November 7th featured CLP’s first ever installment of Show Your Work, a partnership between the public library and local entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of commerce, art, and technology. This amazing event, held at our East Liberty branch, included over fifty attendees and featured four presentations from local innovators in various fields. These folks gave five minute lightning talks about their current projects and then took questions and feedback from the audience and an esteemed panel of experts.

The presenters included:

  • Todd Medema – CMU alum and serial entrepreneur working on a new way to view the passage of time
  • Shannon Miller – co-founder and Chief Gift Officer at giftbug
  • Alexandra Oliver – creator of the Collective Archive project to document and archive Pittsburgh culture
  • Allison Plummer & Ethan Plummer – creators of the Sentinel Box bicycle safety mapping device

The panelists included:

  • Nick End — entrepreneur and leadership team member at Shoefitr
  • Rabih Helou — co-founder of the coworking space at The Beauty Shoppe
  • Chris Millard — Program Coordinator at AlphaLab Gear

Part cocktail party and part networking session, Show Your Work represents the first of a new type of programming venture for CLP. We saw a need for more common space where Pittsburgh innovators could meet up and share their energy and ideas. As we move forward into 2015, we’ll continue to address that need with more Show Your Work events and with our new Work Nights series of programs.

Debuting at the South Side branch Thursday, December 12 from 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM (yes, that’s right, the library will be open until midnight), CLP Work Nights will offer entrepreneurs and innovators a clean, well lighted space with amenities like free wi-fi, photocopies, coffee, and snacks. While these comforts are all good things, the atmosphere a Work Night offers is what really counts. A gathering of like-minded innovators carries a special energy all its own, and we hope folks can harness that creative power to drive their own projects to completion.

Programs like Show Your Work and Work Nights allow us to further our mission as a community facilitator and economic incubator. We measure the impact of our service in the success stories our patrons tell us. As the new year dawns think about joining us for these special new programs. Work nights. Then tell us about it.

–Scott P.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Your Library. Stronger with you.

The Library is so many things.

It is books, of course. And music and films.

It is every child ready to learn.

It is supporting business innovation.

It is connecting a community of neighbors.

With your kind and caring financial contributions, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is able to support individual achievement and the power of community. Now, your gift can have even more of an impact.

Your gift made to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh between now and December 31, 2014 will be partially matched by the Jack Buncher Foundation, which will provide $1 for every $3 the Library raises for operational support, up to $100,000.

This is your library, and we are stronger with you.

Click here to give today!

Thank you for supporting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized