Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

© Marvel Disney

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Marvel Studios and Disney will continue to print their own money with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron today. In preparation for the movie, which has already made over $200 million overseas, I’ve been rewatching the previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I put more planning into this months-long marathon than I do into what I eat. I usually hope patrons will bring us cookies or something equally tasty.

Anyway, top ten lists are always fun (and it’s been a while since I did a top ten list) so, without further delay, I present my ranking of the films of the MCU.

Warning: These are only the films since, apparently, the television shows, tie-in comics and one-shots only complicate the movies.
Warning: This is only my preference. Save your nerd-rage for something else.
Warning: This list contains spoilers.

10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Ang Lee’s 2003 iteration of the big green monster. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, but I remember that it at least it tried to be cerebral. Louis Leterrier’s version, on the other hand, is bland; I feel like he only makes horribly average movies for people who hate movies (see Clash of the Titans, The Transporter and Now You See Me). He’s like a French Michael Bay. This film is clearly the black sheep of the MCU as it’s hardly ever referenced, save for the one-shot The Consultant and a line in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I promised to keep this cinematic. I think it would be incredible (see what I did there?) if the Hulk just stayed in Avengers films or other team-up films in the future.

9. Thor (2011)

I think this is the only film in the MCU that I didn’t see in the theaters. I’ll openly admit that I don’t particularly care for fantasy/mythology stuff. I realize that may seem a bit hypocritical when I’m listing off comic book movies, but let’s move past that. When Kenneth Branagh was announced as the director, I thought it was a match made in heaven. For a time it seemed like Branagh was set on adapting all of Shakespeare’s plays and I’ve always felt the story of Thor is inherently Shakespearean. While the finished product never reaches the Shakespearean epic I had in mind, there are snippets of it bubbling below the surface, specifically when you watch Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston act off each other. You really feel for them as brothers and I’m not just saying that because my brother is blonde and muscular whereas I am dark haired and, well, not (see my earlier comment about eating).

8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Again, knowing that Alan Taylor (someone who’s directed six episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones) was directing this sequel got me excited. I’ve never seen the show–I’m not that kind of nerd–but people really seem to enjoy it and it seems pretty similar in tone to Thor’s mythology. Again, I was disappointed. It’s super-close, but I’m ranking this sequel above Thor because of the Guardians of the Galaxy midcredits tag, the expansion of Thor and Loki’s relationship and because this scene had me cracking up in the theater. I could watch Tom Hiddleston all day.

7. Iron Man 2 (2010)

I know, I know, after I spoke so highly of Robert Downey Jr in my last post, how could I possibly list one of his films so low? Of the three Iron Man films, this is the one I feel like watching the least. It seems there’s a need in sequels to escalate everything so I will give credit to Jon Favreau and company for making the action of the climax less end-of-the-world-threatening than other sequels (see: Thor: The Dark World). Still, the ending was essentially the same as the first Iron Man–people in metal suits fight each other and blow stuff up. Also, Sam Rockwell was wasted in this movie, but  it was a delight to see him pop up in the All Hail the King one-shot (Sorry! I’ll stop venturing from the cinematic part of the MCU).

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Let me say this right off the bat: I’ve never really been a fan of Captain America. I like my heroes flawed and Cap’s always seemed too good. An argument could be made that he’s essentially a junkie because he gets his powers from a series of injections, but that is a blog post for another day. Also, I agree with Tocqueville about patriotism; overly showy displays annoy me. That said, I actually do enjoy this film. The World War II setting is great because it forced the writers to deal (to an extent) with technological hindrances of the day. It’s also not a time period we normally see in these types of films and in a market that is quickly becoming saturated with comic book movies, being different is important.

But more on that later …

Which films made the top five? Click through to find out!


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Did he or didn’t he?

I just finished reading The Bookman’s Tale (It’s pretty dang’d good. Get yourself on the waiting list). In it, a bookseller comes across a copy of Robert Greene‘s Pandosto, the text that inspired The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Only, this might be the actual-for-real book that Will used when writing the play. Sleuthing ensues!

This book hit a few nerd-notes for me: the history of books, Shakespeare and his writing process (Shakespeare In Love is one of my favorite movies. Haters to the left.), and challenging what we think we know about a historical figure. There’s a lot of discussion in the novel about Shakespeare’s detractors – who maintain that there’s no way the barely educated son of a tradesman could have written some of the most important works in the English language (Oxfordians, in particular, rally around Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. See also: Anonymous, a movie that literally made smoke come out of my ears) – and his defenders. It’s like the Jets and the Sharks, only with terribly smart people and way less bloodshed.

Interested in learning more about the man (or the myth)? Check out these books:


– Jess, who falls about 80% on the defender side of things


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Oh Dear, Richard III

Proving once again that truth is frequently stranger than fiction, the bones of King Richard III, of England (1452-1485), were recently found beneath a car park in Leicester. The internet greeted this news with the amusing memes it richly deserves. For example:


Spotted on actress Dawn French‘s Facebook page.

See also:

Spotted on the Blackadder Facebook fan page.

Spotted on the Blackadder Facebook fan page.

(If you are not familiar with Rowan Atkinson’s comedic turns as Edmund Blackadder, you have some DVDs to request. Click here.)

Good fun all around! However, it would be a pity if the only thing we knew about history were that it’s often subject to creative hilarity. Therefore, I give you a short list of resources for learning more about Richard III.


Useful Websites

Cool Stuff We Keep Locked Up

(To see any of these nifty items up close, ask a librarian.)

Digital Resources Even Your Teacher Will Love

Working on an assignment? Not allowed to use “web resources”? We can get you behind the paywall for those journal articles. Visit our electronic history resources and browse through:

  • Biography in Context
  • Salem History
  • World History in Context

See also our electronic reference books–I’d suggest the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

That should be enough to get you started on your journey to understand a misunderstood monarch. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of…

Oh, you wacky internet. Spotted here

Oh, you wacky internet. Spotted here

Or would that be anti-Tudoring?  Hm.

Leigh Anne

who, admittedly, doesn’t know much about history, but knows where to look (and dearly loves to laugh).


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Best books

What makes an author become famous for one book over another?  Is it the beauty of the writing?  A movie adaptation?  The fact that this book wound up on school reading lists?  Some time ago I read this article in which the author debates several books- from Corelli’s Mandolin to Slaughterhouse Five– and offers up some suggestions of what he feels are the authors’ better works.  This article stuck in my mind because I’ve often thought that there are certain books, which while perfectly fine, or even excellent, don’t really reflect an author’s best work (or at least my favorite works of that author).  As you’ll see from the comments section of the Guardian piece, there are a lot of people who feel the same way.  A few of my own picks that would be different from most well known works of certain authors:

Othello: I’ve always loved this play.  Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful romantic tragedy, but Othello has always grabbed me in a way that Shakespeare’s other tragedies haven’t.  Maybe it’s because Iago makes such a great villain?  While this isn’t exactly a lesser-known play, it’s not one that gets quite as much hype as some of Shakespeare’s other works, and for my money it’s one of his best. 

Tender is the Night: I’m in no way knocking The Great Gatsby here, but Tender is the Night is the book that really made me love F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. I think that while Gatsby is a somewhat tighter piece of writing, this book packs even more of a punch. 

Keep the Aspidistra Flying: No doubt that George Orwell’s 1984  is a classic, and one worth reading, but this story of a struggling young writer determined not to succumb to middle class values has always been much more appealing to me.  Orwell’s sometimes sharp tongue shines through a bit more subtly in this novel, and he gently satirizes both young artists and mainstream values while also penning a character who is very relatable. 

What do you think?  Are there books that you feel deserve more praise than they get? 



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“What light through yonder window breaks?”

You’ll pardon our tardiness with today’s post, I’m sure.  Today the Carnegie library gang was puzzled–and more than a little distracted–by the appearance of a large, yellow orb in the sky, one that’s giving off warmth and light.  We’ve taken off our cardigan sweaters and opened up the windows to celebrate; mind you, we’re not 100% certain, but we think it might be…

the sun!  Hurray!

It is still February in Pittsburgh though, so this solar good fortune probably won’t last.   Take advantage of the serendipitous break in the gloom and do something outdoors.  And if your travels happen to bring you near the library, pop in to pick up a warm-weather read.

Leigh Anne
who hopes nobody will shush her if she starts singing

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.

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Loads of Lovely Love

I’m a sucker for a good love story, most likely thanks to my parents. Forty years ago this weekend they tied the knot after a long and spirited courtship that nobody really believed would end in marriage, given how independent both parties were (think Beatrice and Benedick). To this day they remain devoted, affectionate sparring partners in the game of life; it’s inspirational, really, the kind of long-term success story about which epic poems and great novels are written. 

I’ve noticed, though, that in fiction and literature so many of the “great” love stories end badly, be it by death, betrayal, or temporal dislocation. That’s not exactly encouraging, now, is it? Luckily, there are also many wonderful novels with happy endings that can reaffirm your faith in true love without going overboard on the treacle factor. Observe.

PossessionPossession, A.S. Byatt. This is the best kind of love story, the kind where all the obstacles the characters encounter turn out to be worth it in the end. Getting there is half the fun, however, and there’s quite a lot to get through in this long, literary tale of two sets of lovers:  a pair of Victorian poets and the scholars who study them after their deaths. The passion and angst quotients are high, but that just makes the resolution all the better. Read the book, then pick up the film for date night with your favorite lit crit wit. 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. No offense to Colin Firth or the entire Sense and SensibilityMr. Darcy franchise, but I’ve always preferred this tale of lessons learned and love won (and the presence of Alan Rickman in the film certainly doesn’t hurt). Flighty Marianne Dashwood learns the hard way that a handsome physiognomy doesn’t necessarily house a gentlemanly heart; meanwhile, sister Elinor discovers that while reserve is admirable, it is occasionally possible to keep one’s feelings too much a secret. After much confusion and mayhem, the sisters’ double happiness is secured. Hurray!

Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. In typical Dickensian fashion, his final novel is jam-packed with enough characters and plotlines to render all but the most careful readers dizzy. These include two romantic storylines in which wealth and social class play pivotal roles. Determined to help her family by marrying for money, proud young Bella Wilfer grows to care for John Harmon, a man she thinks is a pauper. Meanwhile, Lizzie Hexam, a waterman’s daughter, finds herself embroiled in a love triangle with two gentlemen far above her station, one of whom she loves, but fears she can never hope to marry. Dickens definitely turns on the brooding and despair for this episode of his London chronicles, but brings both romances to tender, satisfying endings that will melt even the most hard-hearted reader.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Three out of four March sisters find Little Women romantic happiness against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods (I suppose there has to be a little tragedy to keep a novel interesting, but, still, poor Beth!). Conventional Meg and coquettish Amy are paired off easily enough, but the highlight of the book, for me, is when tomboyish, career-minded Jo manages to pursue her own dreams and find true love, without compromsing on either aspect. A pretty nifty writing feat, that, considering the limited range of acceptable paths for women in Alcott’s era. This is the most sentimental of the lot, so you might want to opt for the most recent film version, and fast-forward through the mushy parts (at least until Gabriel Byrne shows up).

Dared and DoneOf course, one of the best love stories ever was the real-life romance and marriage of the Brownings, poets Elizabeth and Robert. An attraction sparked by poetic skill, a disapproving papa, a miraculous recovery from long-term illness, and a dashing elopement are just the beginning of what was definitely a marriage of true minds. You can read all about it in Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, which describes in intimate detail how the couple weathered both the sunny and shadowy elements of their relationship, and helped each other grow as poets and people. 

Scoff if you like, but if life hasn’t beaten faith in true love out of me by now, it probably never will. Do you have a great romance to share, either fictional or biographical? Do you like your love stories sunny or star-crossed? 

Leigh Anne
who is more like Marianne than Elinor, despite her best intentions

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Winter

During this cold winter and still-struggling economy, I recommend a trip down the silvery moonpath into the fairy-filled forest of Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Encyclopedia of Stage Plays into Film describes the 1935 adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy as “an escapist Depression fantasy.”  The same encyclopedia also says its “spectacle of enchantment seems artificial and contrived in retrospect.”  I say that’s one of the reasons it is so magical.

In this day of computer-generated imagery, it is a joy to see the clever tricks of old Hollywood (e.g., superimposition, hidden-wire flight, rubber masks, etc.).  I was stunned to see how well done was the onscreen transformation of Bottom’s head into that of an ass.  The ass-head mask even has lips that move.   And as for the set, an enormous forest complete with rivulets was built on a studio sound stage.  Wow.

As the impish Puck, teenage Mickey Rooney’s hooting laugh is maniacal (and perhaps a bit overused).  Joe E. Brown is ridiculous as Flute the actor who in the play-within-the-play plays the female Thisbe.  In her film debut, Olivia de Havilland is adorable as Hermia.  Anita Louise is an ethereal and tender Titania when she falls in love with equine-headed Bottom, played by James Cagney.  I could go on and on because the cast has almost everyone from the Warner Bros. studio roster.

With a big budget and the ambition of directors Reinhardt and William Dieterle, it’s astounding to see what could be done seventy-five years ago in the still relatively young medium of the talkie movies.

— Tim

P.S.  I must mention that Felix Mendelssohn’s famous incidental music for the play was adapted by the great composer  Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who I have written about here).  In one of the DVD’s special features, you can see him playing the piano.

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Pittsburghers Sing to Spring Pt. 3 — Maxine Sullivan spotlight

In my last post, I guided you through some springtime jazz made by Pittsburghers. Now I’m going to stop and park right in front of one of my favorite spring time songs: Maxine Sullivan’s version of “It Was a Lover and His Lass.”

Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987) was born in Homestead, PA and performed in the jazz clubs of Pittsburgh, but her career really took off when she left for New York. In 1937, she and bandleader Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) scored a hit with their version of the Scottish song “Loch Lomond.”

Then, in 1938, Thornhill and Sullivan created another wonderful jazz arrangement from Anglo-European sources, “It Was a Lover and His Lass.” The song appears in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but was composed by Thomas Morley (and scholars debate whether the song was commissioned for the play or whether Shakespeare simply decided to use Morley’s song — see Ross W. Duffin’s Shakespeare’s Songbook for the story and the sheet music).

“Loch Lomond,” “Annie Laurie,” “It Was a Lover and His Lass,” and even Stephen Foster’s “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” demonstrated that Sullivan’s graceful, sophisticated singing was a fine fit with old-fashioned songs. With its refrain of

in spring time, in spring time, the only pretty ring time, when birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding, hey ding a ding a ding, sweet lovers love the spring

it’s a perfect ditty for the season. And a perfect introduction to an underrated Pittsburgh jazz musician.

— Tim

P.S. While reading the CD liner notes, you can use this website to see that another Pittsburgher, saxophonist Babe Russin (1911-1984), played in Sullivan and Thornhill’s group when they recorded “It Was a Lover and His Lass.”

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Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom

Looking for a great way to welcome 2009? Beginning in January, 2009, the Carnegie Library-Main will begin a five-part humanities book discussion entitled Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom (LFW). The series will be held on Thursdays this winter, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the Quiet Reading Room at the Main branch.

Our branch was one of 50 public libraries to receive a $2,500 competitive grant from the American Library Association and the Fetzer Institute as part of their “Let’s Talk About It” series. fetzer_color1Through the reading and discussion of five works of classic and contemporary fiction, and facilitated by our program scholar, Dr. Heather McNaugher of Chatham University, LFW will investigate how literature can increase our understanding of ourselves and one another. Space in this program is limited, so register early at the Carnegie Library website.

The five works in the series were chosen by Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, who has written a wonderful essay describing each selection and how each one relates to our topics. The five books we’ll be reading and discussing (and the dates) are:

We have some special events scheduled, including a presentation of the forgiveness scene from The Winter’s Tale by drama students from Carnegie Mellon University.

If you’d like more information, please email me at newandfeatured@carnegielibrary.org.



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