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Mel's Picks

McElhenney, Rob and Glenn Howerton (creators)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

After watching the first two seasons of this television show (now in it’s 10th season), I declared “WHERE HAS THIS SHOW BEEN FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE!?!” This is a show for those of us looking for something other than the regular wholesome family sitcom — it’s actually the polar opposite of that.
A group of friends own and run a bar in Philadelphia. Hmm... this might sound familiar. Remember the long-running, much-loved show Cheers? Well, It’s Always Sunny... is like Cheers, with the exception being that the actors are completely and utterly depraved, self-absorbed losers. I mean this show “goes there”. After watching a few short episodes, you will find yourself asking: “What is wrong with these people?”, “Who would do that to someone?”, “Did he really just say that?”, and so on. Okay, so it’s really nothing like Cheers. This is a show about severe degenerates who get what they deserve; truly, a recipe for laughter.
Recommended January 2016

Book Cover for Rome (2005-2007)

Rome is one of my favorite television series EVER! I re-watch it every year during the fall or winter months. Due to the extraordinary production costs, HBO and BBC cancelled the show after season two. And that’s okay. It’s actually perfect just the way it is. Rome is such a triumph of television, from the acting to the sets and costumes (both of which are heavily detailed). To give you some context, Rome is set in the 1st century B.C. and most of the cast are based on historical figures. The focus is on the everyday lives of the wealthy and commonplace people during the shift from republic to empire. I could give you the list of the exceptional cast and awards won, or I could just tell you to watch it. So whether you want to brush up on your ancient Roman history, or just submerge yourself in Roman opulence, this series is worth the trip.
Recommended December 2015

Corben, Billy
Limelight: the Rise and Fall of New York’s Greatest Nightclub Empire (2011)

Were you a raver in the 1990's? It’s okay to admit this. Here, I’ll go first. Yes, I was a raver during the 1990’s in Pittsburgh. I never made the pilgrimage to New York City, 90’s clubbing mecca. I do regret never going because, like most club scenes, it didn't last. Club scenes are rather fleeting and very ephemeral.
Or are you interested in the history of electronic dance music in the United States? Do you like house or techno music? Do you remember the outrageous “Club Kids” explosion? They were featured on many popular talk shows of the time for their extreme costumes and wild, outlandish behavior.
Watch Limelight if you answered yes to the any of the above questions. This documentary follows club owner Peter Gatien — dubbed “The Lord of Nightlife” — and portrays the rise and fall of his influential empire. It’s an honest glimpse into the fascinating electronic-music-fueled club scene of 1990’s Manhattan. Peter Gatien simultaneously owned and operated four of the most prominent clubs: Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and Club USA. Do any of these ring a bell? If so, then go dig in your closets and bust out your super-oversized pants, your whistle, your neon dog collar — and don’t forget the glitter.
And most importantly… RAVE ON!!!
Recommended December 2014

Book Cover for Lake Mungo Anderson, Joel
Lake Mungo 2008

I have recently created a project for myself to watch every contemporary horror movie that the library owns, with the exception of extreme gore. I don’t enjoy gore and slasher flicks because they always seem too obvious. I mean how many times can you see someone get decapitated? How many times do you really care to see limbs removed from actors? 10 times, 100 times, 1000? I, for one, am over it. I want to be slowly creeped out, psychologically. Currently, my favorite horror movies fall into the mockumentary found footage genre. Mockumentaries are an effective vehicle for horror films because they seem so convincing as reality. In this hyper-vigilant and voyeuristic technological society, everything is recorded, stored away only to be forgotten, and then maybe rediscovered. Therefore, this genre of horror movies seems most relevant to contemporary life. Not so relevant is running for your life from a machete-wielding lunatic while camping in the woods, or solving puzzles while being tortured by a clown in an urban dungeon. In Lake Mungo, a family is trying to cope with the drowning death of their teenage daughter, Alice. As the family begins to delve into their daughter’s past through video footage, they uncover shocking facts. The more they learn about Alice, the more disturbing their own lives become. Lake Mungo is my top selection after viewing the many new horror films the library offers. I watched this film with the lights out, late at night, and I recommend you do the same. It is truly a frightening work of supernatural mystery. Oh, and watch the end credits.
Recommended May 2014

Book Cover for The Imposter Layton, Bart (director)
The Imposter (2012)

The Imposter is a documentary produced by Dimitri Doganis and directed by Bart Layton. You have to watch this! “In 1994, a thirteen-year-old boy disappeared without a trace from San Antonio, Texas. Three-and-a-half years later, he is found alive and well thousands of miles away in Spain. He tells a story of kidnap and torture when he returns. While his family is excited to bring him home, all is not quite as it seems. Is the boy really who he claims to be, or is he an imposter giving the family false hope for their child's return?” Above is the summary from the library’s catalog. To add anything more would destroy this documentary. I have to bring to it everyone’s attention because it is truly a bizarre missing child investigation from the beginning to the end. I really, really, really wish that I could tell you more, but you just have to watch it for yourself.
Recommended March 2014

Book Cover for Valhalla Rising Refn, Nicholas
Valhalla Rising

I must admit something: I judge movies by their covers, and I rarely read the backs of DVD cases. So when I saw the cover of Valhalla Rising, I instantly knew that this was a film worth my time. The shirtless, tattooed Viking warrior definitely aroused my interest. When patrons ask me about this film, my first words are always, “It’s strange”. I realize how open-ended that reply is, so I’ll extrapolate a bit: it’s a strange and beautiful Viking journey that will leave you with more questions than answers. This may, in fact, be the intended plot. However, this does not bother me in the least. It’s a film that you just sit back, relax, and watch with your eyes and ears. The sound design is essential and builds serene and tense cinematic atmosphere, and along with the superb cinematography, makes this is a beautiful film. Now let me give you more adjectives beyond "strange" and "beautiful": tense, serious, violent, quite, silent, confusing, powerful, hypnotic, hallucinatory, and thoughtful. With minimal (I really mean minimal) dialogue, the focus of Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is the journey itself. I found harmony in the many moments of silence, and in the many moments of tension that carry the film from beginning to end.
Recommended December 2013

Book Cover for On Intelligence Hawkins, Jeff
On Intelligence

Try to find a book that better explains how our brain works. Seriously: I am challenging you. As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to read ONE book that actually attempts to answer the question “How does our brain work?”. On Intelligence is that book. According to the author, it’s all about the cerebral cortex. This book is a brief but thoroughly fascinating exploration of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. One super important thing to take away from this book is that machines are nothing to fear. Robots are not going to take over and destroy humanity. Yeah, I know all about the computer that beat the world’s best chess player and then, more recently, that whole-computer-winning-Jeopardy!-thing. And let us not forget The Terminator’s “Skynet” or 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “HAL 9000”. You don’t have to worry. This book will put those fears to rest when you learn why a robot will probably never even “learn” how to play catch with your children. The human brain is the most complex and amazing organic structure ever. So much so that it continues to be the one thing that we know the least about in this universe. Jeff Hawkins thinks about this and so should you.
Recommended October 2013

Book Cover for Sleep Tight Balagueró, Jaume
Sleep Tight Mientras Duermes

Are you someone that can’t stand super-overly-positive people — someone that you see on a daily basis that is always perfectly happy? I’m referring to the perpetually perky type. Do these folks sometimes make your skin crawl? Or are you one of these eternally happy people and are curious as to how anyone on Earth could possibly ever want to harm a fellow optimist? If so, the psychological thriller Sleep Tight is your type of movie. As with most movies that I check out, I have no idea what they are about before I watch them. I can usually guess the genre by the cover, and maybe recognize an actor or two, but I prefer to dive in without knowing the temperature of the water. And you know what? — the water is lukewarm about 97% of the time. Yeah, I watch a lot of movies — I repeat: a LOT of movies — and I can only recommend a small percentage of them. I have tried keeping a list of every movie that I have watched, but then I stopped because it became clear just how much time I spend on my sofa (but that’s a conversation for another day). Back on track, I can recommend that you watch Sleep Tight. Cesar, the superintendent / doorman of a gorgeous art nouveau apartment building in Barcelona, is played by the actor Luis Tosar. Just plug his name in IMDB and do yourself a favor, watch all of it. Currently, he’s one of my favorite actors. Clara is the effortlessly attractive tenant, lovely, young, successful, happy, and always smiling. If one was to harbor feelings of attraction morphed into intense jealously that ultimately becomes full-blown psychopathic ultra-dysfunctional behavior, perhaps it would be the balding, single, middle-aged doorman that is confronted with the perfect Clara many times daily, every week, month, year. Perhaps if Clara could have toned down her outward exuberance towards life, things would have turned out differently. But then again, psychos will be psychos.
Recommended September 2013

Book Cover for Road to Nowhere Hellman, Monte
Road to Nowhere

This movie falls into the 'I’m-not-sure-what-happened-but-I-know-that-I’ve-thoroughly-enjoyed-it' category. What I mean is that I kinda know what happens but I’m not gonna stress out about it. Will I watch this again? Probably not. Will I recommend this film? Yes, definitely. I would like you to watch this and tell me what you think happens because I never google for an explanation. I’m not the type of person who researches the meaning of stuff, especially movies. What I can tell you is that the Road to Nowhere is a movie about making a movie about a murder mystery that may actually be happening while it’s being filmed — possibly a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, all hinging on how beautifully mesmerizing the lead actress is and whether or not she is an actress portraying a character or is the actual person being portrayed. Honestly, I really don’t know. Nevertheless, this movie is memorable because the acting is believable, the production has that high-quality indie feel, and the story isn’t Hollywood-obvious (a.k.a. forced down your throat). And it’s true, the lead actress, Shannyn Sossaman (her name in real life), is absolutely mesmerizing. The Road to Nowhere is like a slow, sultry daydream that may or may not be happening. You will get lost in the drowsy midsummer confusion, but somehow this makes it all the more intriguing.
Recommended July 2013

Book Cover for The Coming Plague Garrett, Laurie
The Coming Plague

There is nothing more refreshingly satisfying than waking up from an absolutely and totally horrific nightmare to realize that it was all just a dream, not real, never happened. This is one of the most comforting feelings that I know of. Then I became fascinated with human diseases like viruses, particularly of the viral hemorrhagic variety, and the comfort is gone. After reading about these diseases, I became stricken with nightmares that previously only Stephen King novels could produce. But unlike King’s novels, the nightmares induced by The Coming Plague are real. I consider Laurie Garrett’s book to be a seminal work regarding the spread and detection of infectious diseases during our modern times. You can read it straight through or just pick one disease at a time. Have it your way, but I recommend plowing through it from beginning to end. This book covers all of the major players, like Ebola, which destroys one’s body so quickly that it’s barely a concern for those of us living outside of the Congo. My favorite disease — if one must have a favorite — is smallpox. The diseases discussed in this book do travel. These diseases do mutate. Scientists do hunt them down. And boy oh boy will it FREAK you out!!! You will scratch and wonder why your skin is suddenly so itchy. You will become slightly concerned about an incidental cough or a kinda, maybe sore throat. You will check and double check your throat glands. You will examine the whites of your eyes in your bathroom mirror for the first time ever. Perhaps you will wash your hands more thoroughly. You may become a little more vigilant during your next flight. Doorknobs will become... ummm... difficult. A little voice in your head will ask "do I have a fever?" Trust me, you will shake it all off because after reading this book you will realize that your newly acquired neurotic leanings are futile. It is what it is; that’s my philosophy at least, especially when it’s about drug-resistant bacteria. But, hey, learning is all in good fun, right? Wait, who just sneezed!?!
Recommended June 2013

Book Cover for The Gone-Away World Harkaway, Nick
The Gone-Away World

Science Fiction
I bought this book at JFK airport without knowing anything about it. I just wanted something — anything — to help pass the time during my layover. It turned out to be the best purchase that I have ever made at an airport terminal; this book, and the tuna tartar on sesame rice crackers. (It’s true, I will eat sushi virtually anywhere.) Anyways, The Gone-Away World is post-apocalyptic sci-fi surreal awesomeness. You will follow this rag-tag team of misfits that are trying to save the world from “stuff”, the residual matter from a super mega-weapon of mass destruction. This book gets weird, like if-a-Vonnegut-novel-had-sex-with-a-Terry-Gilliam-film-and-then-raised-their-love-child-in-a-Dalí-painting kind of weird. There are Kung-fu battles and pirates. And ninjas too.
Recommended May 2013

Ruiz, Raúl
The Mysteries of Lisbon

Based on the novel Mistérios de Lisboa (1854) by Camilo Castelo Branco, this version, directed by Raúl Ruiz, is the theatrical adaptation of a mini-series originally aired on French television. The theatrical adaptation is a mere 272 minutes; that’s only five hours! I know, right! Totally doable. Sign me up. Having the apartment all to myself on a cloudy Monday, I declared my day off from work “International Couch and Cat Appreciation Day”. This was the day that I would finally tackle The Mysteries of Lisbon. It was my first experience hearing the Portuguese language. I was expecting it to sound similar to Spanish but I was amazed to hear it sounded more like a Slavic language. Intrigued by this, I googled “Portuguese sounds Slavic” and I’m not alone in this observation. I should research this further. I should learn to speak it myself. Anyways, I have a checklist when considering conquering an epic film adventure. One should not take epic-ness lightly. Over 4 hours in length? Check. Set in the greatest (the 18th) century? Check. Gorgeous costumes? Check. Subtitles? Check. Beautiful men like the actor Ricardo Pereira? Check and double check! Oh, and a twisted tale of an orphan trying to uncover his past that simply must span decades if not a lifetime? Check. So when folks ask me “Watched anything good recently?” this film is the first thing that comes to mind.
Recommended April 2013