Aladdin (2019)

Will Smith, Alan Tudyk, Navid Negahban, Marwan Kenzari, Naomi Scott, and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)

            Disney live action remakes in recent years have been hit or miss to most audiences. I’ve personally enjoyed Cinderella, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland, so I do find them entertaining at times. Then there are movies like Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast where I just don’t feel engaged. With the trailer of Will Smith as Genie, many were nervous about the CGI. People were also hesitant about Smith playing a role designed around Robin Williams. While the movie has definite differences, I found Aladdin highly enjoyable.

            The movie starts off with Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) trying to find someone who can enter the Cave of Wonders (a giant animated tiger head made of sand) without the cave collapsing on the one attempting to enter. We then go to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) making his way around the village with some parkour (a form of rapidly moving through the environment). He unknowingly runs into a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who gave two girls some bread without paying. Aladdin tricks the baker into letting Jasmine go and they kick off a daring escape number with the song One Jump Ahead. It’s a fun scene that sets off the movie well.

            Jasmine angrily leaves Aladdin after learning that her bracelet was taken by Abu (Aladdin’s pet monkey). We learn Abu took it out of habit. Aladdin and Abu break into the palace to return the bracelet. They make it to Jasmine and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). Jasmine is grateful for Aladdin returning the bracelet and he “steals” a hair pin promising to return it to her later. As Aladdin leaves the palace he gets caught by Jafar and some guards. Aladdin wakes up in the dessert sitting next to Jafar. He asks Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders and get only an oil lamp. Aladdin does so but a few other things happen, and he ends up trapped in the cave with Genie (Will Smith).

            This movie is joyful. It’s like a Broadway show brought to life. The dance numbers are tremendous. They’ve added, removed and changed things from the original movie; some of which I liked and others not so much. Jasmine’s character is much more developed and her solo song Speechless helps to deliver a strong message. If you don’t expect the animated Aladdin, I think you’ll have a great time. There was about 20 minutes where I noticed I was just smiling during the movie. Rated PG.

Ryan

Advertisements

Free Online Courses at RRPL: Or, Aristotle Returns with a Vengeance

I wanted to take some time this evening and talk about one of our educational databases at RRPL, called Universal Class.  I have the sneaking suspicion that many people do not know what I mean by educational databases, or for that matter that RRPL offers these educational databases for free, and that through them one can take literally thousands of online classes that cost no money, many of which are of high quality.  In future posts, I hope to talk about Lynda, (now call Linkedin Learning), which has quite an extensive series of courses revolving around technology, and Mango, for learning foreign languages, but today I want to talk about Universal Class.

So, what is Universal Class?  Why would anyone want to use it?  How does one access it?

Let’s start with the last question – how does one access it?  It’s easy – go to our website, which is http://www.rrpl.org.  You will see a menu on the left, which I have circled in blue below; and, near the middle of the menu, there is a link called “Research Resources.”  Go ahead and click on that link.

website with research resources underlined

This will take you to the screen below, with two ways of reaching Universal Class – through the “U” in the menu for searching alphabetically, or in the “Featured Databases” section, which the big arrow is pointing to:

Universal on webpage

From here you will be taken to the Universal Class website, where you can create an account with your RPPL library card number.  (If for some reason this doesn’t work, feel free to give us a call – 440 330 7610, and dial 3 for adult reference.)

Okay, so we covered how to reach Universal Class.  Now let’s answer the first question: what is Universal Class?

Universal Class is essentially a collection of online classes.  Online classes (sorry if this is obvious) are courses you can take on the internet, where you can learn at your own pace, based on your schedule.  Online education is, to put it mildly, an intensely booming industry, and is by now a completely permanent feature of our educational landscape.  One cool example of online education are “MOOCS,” which stand for “Massive Online Classes.”  These particular online classes allow for unlimited participation and are free with an internet connection.

Universal Class costs money, BUT with an RRPL card you can access it for free, and then take upwards of 500 classes on topics ranging from Accounting to Personal Development to Poetry to Business to Buddhism to office skills to social work to pet and animal care to health and wellness.  Here are the courses on Universal Class, from Accounting to Psychology:Course Catalog, A-P.PNG

And here are the courses from Real Estate to Writing Skills:Course Catalog, R-Z

So hopefully through this post I have whetted your appetite for online courses and, more specifically, Universal Class.  But we have to answer the last question – why would anyone want to use it?  I guess there are obvious, sort of circular and banal answers – well, you can learn something, you can “enrich your life,” you can professionally develop, you can personally develop.  But what do these phrases even mean? Why would we actually want to learn something new?

I’ve been thinking about learning lately, because it occurred to me recently that much of the writing I do for myself and for work – writing emails, writing blog posts, writing on social media, writing essays, writing poems, etc. – are all instantiations, in many ways, of practices I learned to value when I was still in high school and then college, when I was learning about the importance of “writing for different audiences.”  Writing for different audiences is as at least as old as Aristotle, when he wrote about the rhetorical triangle, my old buddy, as seen below:

Image result for aristotle rhetorical triangle

When we write, as was emphasized in school, we always need to think about ethos (how we establish our credibility), logos (the actual language we use), and pathos (how we move our audience).  Maybe this sounds cold-blooded – do people actually think about these things?  Why can’t they just, I don’t know, tap into their emotions, their unconscious, and pour forth brilliance?  But the reality is that good writers always think about these things, and good readers do, too, whether we’re talking reading/writing fiction, poetry, non-fiction, emails, flyers, social media posts, whatever.  If I write for an academic audience, my actual language is different than if I were writing a blog post.  If I write a blog post on Medium, say, my language is probably a bit different than if I were writing a blog post on “Read It and Weep.” Poems use language in different ways than prose.  In many ways, we are essentially talking about “code switching,” a term you find in the contexts of race and linguistics, but in this case just meaning that, based on who we are talking or writing to, we actually change how speak and write to meet the needs of our audience.  Sometimes, it should be said, we might not think in some ways of an audience at all – here is a great more academic essay on just that:

https://weareteachers.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/closingmyeyesasispeak.pdf

But we often do think of an audience, and this changes how we communicate.

How is this related to using Universal Class?  Here’s how: when I started learning about the importance of writing for different audiences, using the rhetorical triangle as a kind of guide, I don’t know how serious I took this rhetoric business.  I suppose it made sense in a cursory way, and I”m sure I nodded and agreed with what was said.  But I have come to realize that learning about these things – essentially allowing those ideas to gradually germinate and percolate – has actually profoundly influenced my life, in many different contexts and many different ways.  I use what I have learned about rhetoric pretty much every single day of my life, at work and not at work.  In some ways, it is a disciplinary lens or framework through which I see the world, or at least many parts of the world.  In other words, learning something new changed my life, and made it more interesting and meaningful, though at the time, when I was learning it, I didn’t think it would do so, and would probably have laughed if you had told me so, as a visitor from the future.

There’s a famous Russian literary critic named Mikahil Bakhtin, who is sometimes hard to understand, but he wrote quite beautifully and convincingly about how even our most mundane, everyday actions, encounters, experiences, are in many ways quite radically creative.  I think he is right.  But, if he is right, then we don’t really know what effect learning something new can have on our life, because even the most mundane new skill is powerful and creative.  Maybe we say, “screw it, I’m going to take this class on business, or ethics, or poetry, on Universal.”  And we do it, and we learn something, and then later we apply this to ourselves, others, the world.  Who can then really say what effect this has actually had on our or others’ lives? On our own characters?  In other words, if we use what we have learned to master something, or hone something, or improve something, I’m not sure we can really calibrate or calculate its benefit, its ripple effect, inside and outside.  And if it does have a ripple effect, then this is proof, evidence, that we can grow or change as human beings.  Why?  Because this effect means that something has changed, in us or in others, no matter how small or how large.  I sometimes think that we can improve our characters and our lives through a very small willingness, even something like learning a new word, a new skill, a new concept, a new idea.  I don’t know if it’s the word or skill or concept or idea itself that changes us, so much as just that willingness, that orientation, that stance, undergirding our action.  But this small willingness, at least in my experience, has effects that I think are really beyond our ability to comprehend. Taking an online course is by no means the only way to learn something new.  But they are free, they can be quite fun and interesting, and you really never know where the things you learn will take you.

 

 

What we’re reading now…..

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Cover image for The Nickel boys :

Whitehead’s harrowing story about a reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow-era is fictional, though based on real life accounts.  The story does not dramatize the violence and horrors of the reality, rather lets the circumstances speak for themselves.  It is a powerful story regarding the very real racial inequality of our country in the not so distant past.  Beth

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell

Cover image for

This is the second short story collection I have read by author Karen Russell. Just like her other anthology Vampires in the Lemon Grove : Stories, Orange World offers the reader a variety of stories where everything seems similar and yet uncanny. In a USA Today interview Russell has said that her work isn’t so much magical realism as it is “magical thinking” writing. Highly recommend for fans of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Victor Lavelle. Greg

Russell’s third collection gives readers eight amazing stories that span a variety of subjects and experiences, all beautifully written, insightful, and often wonderfully weird. Each work is wildly creative, whether you are transported to a future Florida ravaged by rising ocean water and climate change, joining two young women as they attempt to survive an evening trapped in a haunted ski-lodge, or following a widowed farmer as he recklessly returns to a life of raising tornadoes on the Nebraska prairie. Russell skillfully weaves tales that combine both the supernatural and mundane, crafting subtly creepy and emotionally resonant stories. A highly recommended volume for fans of her prior collections, as well as those who enjoy darkly humorous literary fiction. Nicole

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

Cover image for

I recently read the stage play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by writing partners Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was first published in 1970 during the Vietnam War era, a time when many young people were protesting the American involvement in that conflict. In the play Henry David Thoreau, as a young man, engages in Civil Disobedience by not paying his taxes to show his disapproval of the Mexican-American War. The parallel is clear. The play also shows Thoreau’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson and allows the character to express several themes that he would write about in his middle age before he died at the age of 44. The script is often dream-like with multiple flashbacks from the jail cell used to highlight moments from Thoreau’s development as a thinker who would not just “go along” with the status quo. Byron

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Cover image for

This is the story of Edith and her sister Helen who have been estranged for decades when Helen convinces their father to leave the family farm to her. Helen uses the money to rebuild the Blotz beer brand with her husband Orval Blotz. When granddaughter Diana’s parents are killed, Edith raises her. Together they barely scrape by. Diana has a talent for making beer and eventually buys a small brewery. With Diana’s talent, perseverance, and the help of her grandmother and Edith’s elderly friends, the brewery is successful. This is a hopeful and heartwarming story of take-charge women when the going gets tough. Emma

 

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Cover image for The last romantics :

In the Spring of 1981, the four young Skinner siblings lose their father to a heart attack and soon to follow will lose their mother to severe depression, a time period that the siblings will refer to as The Pause.  Caught between the easy & comfortable life they once had and an uncertain future, the children navigate The Pause with fear and resentment, only to become fiercely loyal to each other.  Two decades later The Skinners find themselves again confronted with a family crisis that will test the strength of these bonds and force them to question the life choices they’ve made and what exactly they will do for love.  This book was much like Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  If you like family drama, like I do, I recommend this book. Mary

The Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson 

Cover image for

is convinced that her best friend’s death is not part of a suicide pact that has already claimed the lives of the school’s two most popular mean girls. When she finds a mysterious grimoire with a too good to be true solution to her problem, she sets out to resurrect Riley. Of course things don’t go as expected–instead of bringing back Riley to get answers to her murder, she resurrects her bestie AND their bullies, the newly dead mean girls June and Dayton. To make matters worse, none of them have any memory of their deaths. Mila has one week to figure it all out while keeping her zombies out of sight. Surprisingly deep and insightful, this body-positive witch tale is a fun exploration of bullying, friendships, and redemption. Megan

Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

Cover image for


Juniper Song has no experience as a detective.  The closest qualification she has when asked by her best friend to investigate whether his father is having an affair is that she is a Raymond Chandler super fan.  However, this lack of practical training does not deter Juniper from taking the role of Phillip Marlowe and agreeing to do some light snooping.  Following the tradition Marlowe long ago set, Juniper is quickly knocked out soon after she begins looking into the matter.  Only, when Juniper wakes up, the stakes have risen when she also finds a dead body in the trunk of her car.  Great noir that, while paying homage to Chandler, looks to update and add to the genre. Trent

Watching You by Lisa Jewel

Cover image for

I read this quick moving thriller in a few sessions. Told from the points of view of a few “watchers”: a young, restless newlywed living with her brother and his wife has her eye on the handsome older neighbor who is the new school principal; the awkward teenage principal’s son has his eye on most of the neighborhood; the crazy lady next door is sure EVERYONE is watching her, and her daughter has heard terrible rumors about her new principal and is befriending his son to find out if they are true. This voyeuristic neighborhood is thrown into turmoil when someone is brutally murdered. Everyone saw something, but can anyone put it all together? Sara

The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions by Ken Wilber

Cover image for

Wilber is a philosopher and transpersonal psychologist, and this is one of a few tomes he has written, all wonderful, about helpful ways of thinking about more out-there topics like mysticism, consciousness, and spirituality.  Wilber is also a Buddhist, but his critiques of religion are applicable to Western and Eastern approaches.  I have been reading him for some time now, and have always found him very insightful.  For anyone interested, a great place to start to understand his framework, which is called “AQAL” – standing for “all quadrant, all level” – is his Integral Psychology from 1994.  Andrew

Shazam!

DC’s third solo film since they started trying to create a collective universe succeeds with Shazam! I’m personally a fan of Zachary Levi who plays the character of Shazam in this movie. I got to know him in the tv series Chuck, then I appreciated his voice acting and singing talents in Disney’s Tangled, and I was even surprised he replaced Fandral in Thor: The Dark World. So, the actor himself really helped sell me on the movie. I knew some about the character Shazam going into this, but not what would make him the star of a compelling solo film.

For a little bit of character history and some trivia, Shazam is quite an old character first appearing in 1939. He’s also had another name that until recently he’s used, Captain Marvel. This is confusing as Marvel comics also has Captain Marvel as a character. His name Shazam is also an acronym which explains the source of his powers. He gets his powers from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury; they do glance over this in the movie.

The movie starts off in the past. We’re shown a boy (Ethan Pugiotto) who meets a wizard and is tested to see if he’s worthy. The boy is tempted by this magical eye associated with the Seven Sins, so the wizard declares him unworthy. We then cut to a more recent past of a mother and a son (David Kohlsmith) at a carnival where the mother is trying to win the son a prize. The son gets a compass as a prize and drops it causing him to lose his mother in the crowd. We cut to years later where Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has tracked down another woman he thinks is his mother, but it’s not her.

Billy has spent years trying to find his mother. He constantly runs away from foster care, and he never really grows close to anyone. He ends up at a new foster home with Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) Vasquez who have several foster children with them. Billy still rejects this family, but he does have some casual conversations with roommate Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). When Freddy is attacked by some bullies, Billy intervenes to help and then runs away via subway car. The subway car ends up magically transporting Billy to the wizard from earlier. The Seven Sins have broken out and the wizard chooses Billy to be Shazam.

This movie does so many things right and truly makes it a fun and funny experience. It’s not often we see a boy, who is lost in life, transform into a super hero with spectacular powers. It’s just fun to see how he deals with these powers. The villain Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) has a well-defined character which runs parallel to Billy’s life in many ways but ultimately they make very different life choices. Something this movie does well is it tells most of its story in chronological order. From an audience perspective, it can be a bit annoying to stop the action to explain why two characters are fighting, and this movie avoids that.

There’s so much good about this movie that it’s hard to go into it all. The family dynamic was interesting without feeling cliché. The villain was well understood, though he may be too scary for younger children. We really get to know the characters and care about them. More than anything though, the movie is just fun. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

The Sun and the Sand

Officially, summer doesn’t end until September 23rd, but we all know that the unofficial ending of summer is when the kids go back to school. So, let’s grab the few days we have left and head out to the beach or the closest swimming pool! And if you’re working (like me) or don’t like the heat, the bugs or the people, enjoy some beachly entertainment like the suggestions below:

Cover image for The way way backCover image for Beach blanket bingoCover image for The endless summer

 

Cover image for Sag Harbor :Cover image for On Chesil Beach :Cover image for On the island :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See you at the beach!

Dori

 

 

Non-Fiction Roundup – August 2019

Hi Everyone!  For our non-fiction roundup for August, we have an interesting crew – a memoir about becoming absolutely obsessed with chess (All the Wrong Moves), and another memoir about what dementia can mean for a father who suffers with it and a daughter who serves as a caregiver for her father (The Last Ocean).  There is a third memoir by Rick Moody, a really interesting novelist, short story writer, memoirist, and musician, who is probably most famous for his breakthrough novel from 1994, The Ice Storm, which was critically acclaimed and came out as a movie, with the same title, in 1997, directed by Ang Lee.

In addition, we have a work by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic sister, who has been an influential and vocal advocate for abolishing the death penalty.  She wrote a best-selling book in the 90s called Dead Man Walking, which was later made into a movie with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.  Rounding up our roundup is a memoir by Nicci Gerard, who is British and Zimbabwean, and who writes about her father, Tim Fuller, a white Englishman who moved to Africa in the sixties/seventies to fight in the Rhodesian Bush War – a war which led, in the late seventies, to universal suffrage (the right to vote for all citizens, with minor exceptions), and the end of white minority rule in what was then called Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.  Lastly, we have Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg, a book which takes a deep dive into the way our everyday habits – from using smartphones to purchasing clothing, drinking alcohol to using sweeteners in our coffee – habits which we do not give a second thought – do actual, troubling harm to our environment and ecosystem. Patrons who came to our Plastic Purge event in March should be particularly interested in this work.

Happy Reading!

Cover image for All the wrong moves :Cover image for Cover image for

All the Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and Ruining Everything  – by Sasha Chapin. Doubleday (Penguin Random House). 224 Pages.
An award-winning journalist explores the consequences of obsessive addiction through his experiences as an amateur chess enthusiast, revealing how the game consumed his life, compelling two years of international travels in search of grandmaster challenges.

The Last Ocean: A Journey Through Memory and Forgetting – by Nicci Gerrard. Penguin Pr (Penguin Random House). 272 Pages.
The award-winning journalist and coauthor of the Nicci French best-sellers presents a lyrical, humane investigation into dementia that explores the journeys of both patients and their loved ones, exposing misguided protocols that contribute to unnecessary end-of-life pain.

The Long Accomplishment: A Memoir of Struggle and Hope in Matrimony 
Ricky Moody. Henry Holt. 320 Pages.
The award-winning author of The Ice Storm shares a month-by-month account of a harrowing year of his life, marked by his second marriage, depression, addiction, miscarriages, robberies and the deaths of friends.

 

Cover image for Cover image for Cover image for

River of Fire: My Spiritual Journeyby Helen Prejean. Random House (Penguin Random House). 320 Pages.
An activist nun known for campaigning to end the death penalty describes her spiritual journey from a person who prayed for God to solve the problems of the world to someone who works to transform social injustices herself.

Travel Light, Move Fast – by Alexandra Fuller. Penguin Pr (Penguin Random House). 240 Pages.
The best-selling author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight explores how her late father’s service during the Rhodesian War, work as a banana farmer in Zambia and preference of unpredictability over security inspired her life.

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have – Tatiana Schlossberg.  Grand Central Pub. 288 Pages.
The New York Times science writer explains the impact of climate change and environmental pollution on everyday life, examining largely unrecognized consequences in the specific areas of technology, food, fashion and fuel.

July Playlist

Here’s what we have been listening to this July. If you haven’t checked out Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi yet, do yourself a favor and place the album on hold today. You can find it in our catalog by clicking the artwork with the birds above.