Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Throughout the history of cinema, many filmmakers have attempted to examine the nature of identity and the notion of the ‘self’ but few have made a film as visually rich and haunting as director Ingmar Bergman’s masterful Persona—a tour de force of a movie that when released in 1966 expanded the poetry of film and solidified Bergman as one of the great artists of the medium. For some critics, the film has been viewed as a hypnotic culmination of many of his themes and obsessions. For others, Persona was a confusing, unintelligible and pretentious mess. Time has been very friendly to this influential precursor to films like Mulholland Drive, 3 Women, Black Swan, Fight Club and other psychodramas that portray identity and self as an unfixed, transferable construct that modulates between states of being rather than as a permanent characteristic of the human psyche. This classic is now on Blu-ray as well as DVD.
Fans of Errol Morris documentaries will not be surprised by his approach to understanding his most recent subject, the life and philosophies of Donald Rumsfeld. There are the standard cutaways to spirited music (Danny Elfman’s score) blended into a particular image or graphic that relates in some way to the film’s subject. There is the occasional moment where the viewer hears Morris pose a question or request additional information from off camera. Basically, this is a very typical Errol Morris film. Like his previous film The Fog of War, where he allowed former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to candidly speak about his role in the escalation and continuation of the Vietnam War, Morris lets Rumsfeld freely talk to the audience, only interjecting here and there in order to pose a question or contradict his subject’s commentary, much of which exhibits Rumsfeld’s talent for turning a phrase (always with a gleam in his eye and a smirk). Morris is clearly fascinated by Rumsfeld’s hubris, confidence, sense of moral clarity, and ability to be dualistically self-aware and ludicrously delusional-- at times he embodies both within a single exchange of ideas. Those who blame Rumsfeld for the invasion and occupation of Iraq will likely be frustrated that Morris refuses to take a more confrontational stance toward some of Rumsfeld’s claims. This has always been Morris’ artistic approach however, to engage his subject by allowing them to feel comfortable enough to be frank and thus more honest, a successful method that allows the viewer critical insights into the mind of Rumsfeld that otherwise would be lost within a polemical or satiric slant. Ultimately, Rumsfeld doesn't blink, doesn't self-evaluate, and therefore, one mostly sees in his glib snark, a man who sticks to his schtick.
The Unknown Known
As with most of the wonderful films that have been made under the ESPN film series 30 for 30, Youngstown Boys is a moving examination of the relationship between power, money, urban neglect and the role that larger socioeconomic forces play in molding the lives of individual athletes as they develop both on and off the proverbial field. These are not films about sports as such but rather powerful documentaries that explore the lives of the famous and infamous through a sociological lens, positioning their subjects within a broad framework for understanding the causes and effects of noteworthy events. This is the story of the rise and fall and rise again journey of a successful college football coach and his star player. It’s also a story all too common in today’s world, where young, inner-city athletes are confronted with difficult challenges and choices in regards to their future. Running back Maurice Claret and coach Jim Tressel were the toast of Columbus, Ohio for one magical year of success before controversy erupted on Ohio State's campus, leaving both men in very different situations, both trying to succeed in a world of greed, influence and big money. Claret’s story unfolded under the intense glare of the national media whereas the documentary provides greater clarity and a more nuanced context as to the events that would test the strong bond between these two Youngstown Boys.
Last year, the psychological thriller Prisoners was a break out hit for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. With his follow-up film Enemy, once again starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the director embraces Hitchcockian style and atmosphere over formal plotting. Enemy is a kind of tone poem of dread and anxiety that I suspect will leave many a viewer grumpy and unsatisfied (more description would only spoil it). I for one enjoyed Villeneuve’s playful antics and commitment to the project over any kind responsibility to provide viewers with a conventional follow up. Fans will either love the Kafkaesque horror of the film or despise it for its provocative resistance to philistinism. You decide.
The Good Wife is one of the best network television shows and after five seasons, still going strong with its mixture of secrecy, passion, scheming and legal maneuvering.
It possesses all of the elements for a successful serial: power politics, courtroom confrontations drawn from the headlines, mysterious characters, well-paced intrigue, and nuanced storytelling. Throw in a fantastic cast (that’s refreshingly racially diverse) that brings to life the smart writing and you have a hit show worth binging on.
The Good Wife
This surprisingly moving and affectionate biography of a celebrated skateboard team from the 1980’s will appeal to both current skateboarders as well as those Generation X kids who grew up following these legendary shredders of the street, pools, and ramps. Cobbled together by 70’s skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta, The Bones Brigade was comprised of the era’s most talented and original riders, including: Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero. This is an entertaining film that recounts both the personal stories of each individual skater and provides fans of the colorful sport with an insider’s account of skateboarding’s golden era.
The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Spike Lee’s seminal film Do the Right Thing was released 25 years ago today to both critical acclaim and grumblings that the movie might insight violence.
The film centers on one extremely hot day in a Brooklyn neighborhood, where racial tensions have reached a breaking point. It did what few movies had done then or even now—honestly addressed racism in our country.
In the resulting 25 years, the movie has become an American classic, one whose story is still as pertinent today as it was when it was released.
Do the Right Thing
In less talented hands, Her could have become a mess of empty romantic sentimentality or an opportunity for heavy handed statements about the future hazards of alienating technologies. But viewers are in luck, the inventive mind of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation) has made a sensitive and powerful film about the limits and possibilities of human intimacy as mediated through artificial intelligence. Her is a magnificent film that hits the right notes over and over again without giving into satire or weighty pessimism. The film’s casting is superb, the music perfectly fits the emotional tones and the visual imagery of a near-future only delicately disorients our sense of time and setting, leaving the viewer to consider the subject matter as a deeply contemporary one. Fans of films like Lost in Translation, Harold and Maude, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beginners, and The Future will likely be drawn into Jonze’s quirky world where timeless desire in the future has less to do with operating systems and more to do with the continuous puzzle of the mind/heart machine.
70 years ago today, one of World War II's most significant battles was D-Day, the day in which thousands of Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel to invade German occupied France. There's certainly no shortage of informational resources on this topic but if you're a WWII buff or simply want to know more about this imporant day in the fight against Nazi Germany, check out The War by Americana documentarian Ken Burns. This is my favorite work of Burns and his most emotionally dramatic. Soldiers who were there, storming the beaches of Normandy, recount with unfiltered descriptions, the horrors, heroism, and blunders that they experienced on that fateful day and in doing so, provide an unromanticized version of their sacrifice. It's Burn's most stirring documentary and one that is required viewing for those interested in World War II. For those who want their history fictionalized, KPL owns many feature films set during wartime, including Saving Private Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, Schindler's List, The Big Red One, Force 10 from Navarone, The Thin Red Line, The English Patient, The Winds of War, In Darkness, Ivan's Childhood, The Cranes are Flying, and Flags of Our Fathers.
Nebraska, the movie, is filmed in black and white, which makes it different from the start. It is a slower, steady-paced story about an adult son’s resigned understanding toward his aging father who believes he has won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes.
Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, the deteriorating father, and Will Forte plays, David, the son. June Squibb plays Kate, the brutally honest wife. The story begins with the father walking along the highway in Billings, Montana. A police officer stops the father and contacts the family to pick up the old man. The son retrieves his father who tells everyone that he is walking to the sweepstakes headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska to claim his fortune. He means what he says and the son realizes there is no stopping him. A road trip ensues. On the way they stop in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown, occupied by many relatives and friends and former business acquaintances. They stay with Woody’s brother and sister-in-law and criminal sons. Woody announces to everyone that he’s going to be a millionaire. After that, every day is filled with drama, shananigans and tell-all stories from the past.
The believability of the characters and the story is bar-none. You become immersed in the events. It is quirky, goofy, frustrating and tender, all things human. Nebraska was nominated for six Academy Awards. The combination of actors and directors is superb.