Blasts From The Past, on DVD

The library not only features new, hot TV shows, it also has plenty of chestnuts in the collection for you to borrow. How about some 80s and 90s comedy to get you started?

In Square Pegs, teenage friends Patty and Lauren are trying to get by in an American high school and become less awkward and fit in among their peers. The television sitcom aired for just one season from 1982-1983. At the time, the series was acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of high school life. It also features Sarah Jessica Parker in all her big hair, pre-Sex and the City glory.

The sketch comedy show In Living Color aired on Fox from 1990-1994 and blurred the lines of race and political correctness with its obtuse humor. Created and written by the Wayans Brothers, the show launched careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and David Alan Grier. In addition to its regular skits and recurring characters, the popular weekly show also featured acclaimed live music performances and the dance troupe The Fly Girls. To be introduced or reacquainted, check out seasons 1-3 at AADL.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #326

Absolutely, you won't get an argument from me that Unholy Night is not the first novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, but it is his first departure from zombies and vampires. Good enough reason for me.

Alright, it is another one of his "evolution in dark historical revisionism" but what fun. And thanks to that "brilliant and twisted mind", you will never look at The Nativity the same way again.

Did you ever wonder about the "Three Wise Men"? Who were they? Why the strange gifts? What happened to them? In Grahame-Smith's telling, they were infamous thieves dressed in borrowed finery, led by the charming, elusive and murderous Balthazar as they stumbled upon the Holy family in the famous manger after a daring escape from Herod's prison. Before they could make off with the gifts, Herod's men began to slaughter the first born in Judea, and they cast themselves, reluctantly at best, as the Holy Family's escort in their flight into Egypt. Thus began a heart-stopping, swashbuckling adventure.

The action, danger, intrigue, and humor is palpable but what impressed me most are the ingenious, unexpectedly poignant back stories he has created for the biblical figures - from the young, ambitious and secretly decent Pontius Pilate; Mary, the mouthy, sassy 15 year-old who is tough and surprisingly maternal; to the cruel, mad and diseased King Herod.

Film rights for Unholy sold ($2 million) to Warner Bros. before its publication. Seth Grahame-Smith wrote Tim Burton's film Dark Shadows (being released May 2012) and the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a previous novel, in theaters June 2012.

Readalike: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon ; illustrated by Gary Gianni.

Spoiler Alert!

John Dies at the End.

But in the beginning, John was alive and well when David Wong’s book started as a free webserial in 2001. It garnered enough popularity (approximately 70,000 fans) to get a more concrete existence and was printed as a paperback in 2007. Now, it has been adapted to film and premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

This comedic horror story centers around two friends, eccentric slacker John and self-deprecating, sarcastic Dave, a dog named Molly, and their experiences with, and caused by, a drug called "Soy Sauce." The drug is said to cause hallucinations and "out-of-body experiences" for the users. But John and Dave start finding themselves in situations that seem more real and even less explainable.

Strange deaths start occurring. Molly, the dog, is finding herself in strange instances of trouble and heroism. People are going missing, being possessed by evil, and all hell may literally be breaking loose. Dave is not thrilled about their new paranormally-enhanced life, but John loves all their unusual encounters and dives in headfirst. It looks like it's up to John and Dave to save the day, willingly or unwillingly. With less than 400 pages, this book is a quick read, full of genuinely frightening things as well as genuine hilariousness.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

The documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at O’Brien’s 32-city music and comedy show known as The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

The tour was a result of O’Brien stepping away from "The Tonight Show" after a dramatic dispute with NBC over moving the show’s timeslot from 11:35 pm to 12:05 am, following Jay Leno. O’Brien didn’t agree with the deal and walked away from the show with a settlement, but was contractually banned from appearing on radio or TV for six months.

The talk show host didn’t want to stop the late-night comedy act, so he took it on the road, in a most interesting fashion. I saw it performed live, and it was indeed a wonderful ruckus.

The film is an in-depth look into the birth of the tour, how the live comedic material was brought to life. It follows O’Brien and crew on an emotional backstage look at what it takes to do so much in so little time. Conan fans will appreciate the candid look at his life during such a tumultuous time. Two weeks after the successful live show wrapped, O’Brien began preparations for his newest late night show, Conan, which now airs on TBS.

The Monster Squad, on DVD

As a classic kid-comedy film from 1987, The Monster Squad is underrated. Not enough people of a certain generation have seen this film, and I speak of my peers. Peers who, when hearing a quote from this movie during a trivia contest, hadn’t heard of the movie, let alone recognized the quote. The silence of the film's initial release in 1987 was slowly followed by a rebirth as it was discovered by old and new fans. After 20 years of VHS life, it was finally released on DVD.

The film follows 12-year-old Sean, his best pal Patrick, and their gang of misfit friends. As fans of classic horror films, they gather in the local tree house to talk monsters. The monsters become all too real when Count Dracula shows up in town with the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Gill Man, all searching for an ancient amulet that will shift the balance of good and evil, giving Dracula control. It’s up to Sean and the newly formed Monster Squad to stop the end of the world from arriving.

It’s a zany pre-teen adventure, filled with pesky little sisters, creepy neighbors, childlike one-liners, and a swirling vortex of evil. The two-disc 20th anniversary edition of the film is available at AADL on DVD and Blu-ray.

"Bitten & Smitten"

One of the many perks of working in a library includes shelving books. It's often during shelving that I find some of my favorite reads that I'd likely not come across otherwise. One of those books (and the rest in the series) is Bitten & Smitten by Michelle Rowen. The bright cover caught my eye and the witty summary sucked me in (pun fully intended).

Sarah Dearly, the saucy yet reluctant heroine, finds herself just trying to live through what she has dubbed the "world's worst blind date" when she suddenly wakes up to find herself being buried, almost undead, in a shallow grave. She escapes only to witness her blind date being "taken care of" by what she soon learns are vampire hunters. Unfortunately, thanks to the "love bites" left by her undead date, she now has to escape the hunters or wind up sharing more than just a bad night with her toothy date.

Her escape leads her to Thierry de Bennicoeur, a moody vampire master who helps her evade the stakes of her stalkers. After stumbling through her first "undead days," Sarah realizes she's going to need a little more help than she thought when it comes to navigating the night. Michelle Rowen draws the reader into this light read with suspense and quick one liners.

Let the Bridge Work Begin - Big Project Next to the Big House

You've been winding your way through the single-lane situation on East Stadium, eagerly anticipating the next phase in the Ann Arbor Bridges project. Well, the wait is almost over. Beginning in November 2011, the Ann Arbor Bridges Reconstruction project will begin.

The Project Update Press Release details, concretely, every phase of the project. Leaving no cone unturned in their effort to keep citizens informed, the city will provide updates on the website throughout the reconstruction.

And speaking of the Big House, Sparty sends his best.

Coming Out, Standing Up

Expertly turned phrases and pithy remarks have long been the sword and shield of LGBT people making their way through life. Look no further than Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, the patron saints of savage wit and wisdom. Today is National Coming Out Day, when we are encouraged to celebrate being out and open about ourselves. Nobody does this as well as the wielders of words, the Valkyries of verbosity, the champions of chortling, the legends of laughter. I’m talking of course, about gay and lesbian comedians, people who make a business of opening their lives up to other people and encouraging laughter.

The diversity of LGBT folks is reflected in the wide variety of comedic performers. You couldn’t get much more opposite than the prim and proper English archetype Stephen Fry and the extremely raunchy John Waters.
Matt Lucas is a sketch comedian most famous for his series Little Britain.
Margaret Cho is most well known for her hilarious stand-up routines, but she also has a hand in fashion design, music videos, and social activism.
Wanda Sykes, named one of the 25 funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly, has been doing comedy in television and films as well as on-stage for the past two decades.
Oh, and then there’s this comedian named Ellen. Maybe you’ve heard of her?

Confessions of A Serial Novelist

If you have enjoyed the books of Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, we have a real treat for you in the audiobooks section. Confessions of a Serial Novelist is a recording of a hilarious, live presentation by him in New York City while on tour.

Many of us know him as a talented and amusing author of numerous series, including The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club and 44 Scotland Street. If you are a fan of his writing, and enjoy his erudite commentary, cheerful manner and quirky sense of humor, this recording of him talking about being an author and reading from his work is so laugh-out-loud funny and so thoroughly delightful and entertaining it is not to be missed.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #292

Admittedly, William Giraldi's debut Busy Monsters * * appears at first a bit outside my comfort zone. But I have learned from experience that adventurous reading is often its own reward.

I was intrigued by the publisher's blurb... "Echoing a narrative tradition that includes Don Quixote and Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, William Giraldi's debut novel is a love story of linguistic bravado that explores American excess, the diaphanous line between fiction and fact, and what desperate men and women will do to one another."

Charles Homar, a "memoirist of mediocre fame" for a weekly magazine rescues Gillian Lee, superman-style, from a stalled Ferris wheel and is immediately smitten. Before he could march her down the aisle, she takes off to pursue her passion for a legendary giant squid. To win her back, Charlie crisscrosses the country seeking counsel, confronting creatures both mythic and real: Bigfoot on the Canadian border, space aliens in Seattle, a professional bodybuilder with Asiatic sex slaves in suburban New Jersey, all the while "battling his own equally dangerous internal monsters", and writing about it.

"Charlie's last name is no coincidence as here we have a seriocomic picaresque that references everything from the Odyssey to medieval romances to Don Quixote and Moby-Dick. A brilliant first novel that may well be in the running for 2011's literary awards." (Remember how Goon Squad came out of nowhere to snatch several major awards?)

Quirky, hilarious at times, and surprisingly engaging. Well worth the time and effort.

* * = starred reviews

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