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Staff Picks: Movies

Fuzzy Memories

Memory loss, amnesia and the human tendency to construct images and establish narratives in the service of making sense of the past has long fascinated filmmakers, writers and artists. The ‘unreliable narrator’ has been employed by many a director and writer to create a world of uncertainty and suspense within the mind of the viewer. I enjoy films that explore the discontinuity and fallibility of our memories in the service of depicting the unstable character of our perception toward others, including our own limitations of understanding of the self. This depiction of the cruelty of unpredictability has found its way inside the DNA of countless films that have dealt with the subject in varied ways, some through the vehicle of a character’s mind and others through a narrative approach.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Away from Her
Total Recall
Before I Go to Sleep
The Vow
Last Year at Marienbad
The Bourne Trilogy
Dark City
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Best Sequels

From the November/December issue of Film Comment comes the magazine’s always provocative “Film Comment’s Trivial Top 20” list, curated by their contributors. What do you think? 

Best Sequels
1. The Godfather: Part II
2. Dawn of the Dead
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. Before Sunset
5. The Bride of Frankenstein
6. For a Few Dollars More
7. Toy Story 2
8. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
9. Aliens
10. Evil Dead II
11. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
12. Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior
13. A Shot in the Dark
14. Mad Max: Fury Road
15. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
16. Sanjuro
17. From Russia with Love
18. Aparajito
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
20. French Connection II


Results is not your typical romantic comedy. Surely, there are elements of both romance and comedy but the film wisely resists the standard clichés of the genre by exploring the pitfalls of relationships with perfectly cast actors. It’s the spirited performances director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) draws from Guy Pearce, Cobie Smolders and Kevin Corrigan that breathes life into the humdrum of a plot. The humor is quirky, sly and subtle. Bujalski, known for his brand of idiosyncratic comedy, has made a film in Results that doesn’t reduce humor to the predictability of the ‘big joke’ or distracting, stylistic flourishes. It’s an observational, weirdly touching miniature that expresses an unassuming interest in questioning the perceptions we hold of ourselves and others.

Streaming Holiday Movies

Looking for some Holiday movies? Do you have the internet? Did you throw out your television and cancel your Netflix subscription to save some money this year? Well, look no further than Hoopla’s holiday curated list of Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed movies. It’s fast and easy to stream Hoopla’s catalog.

Go to and sign in (logging in for the first time requires your in-district library card number and the creation of a password and email address) to your account. Scroll down to the “Movies” section and click on “Browse All” and then “Collections”. 

The Last Man on Earth

There appears to be no plans on the part of the entertainment industry to reduce or diminish the presence of the Man-child (defined here as: a boorish, immature adult male without capacity for empathy or self-reflection) character. They are sadly, as ubiquitous as ever (we could blame Adam Sandler for this cultural scourge). That’s exactly what viewers get with the lead character of the comedic series The Last Man on Earth—a highly dysfunctional, selfish bozo in a man’s body. Former SNL actor/writer Will Forte lets it all hang out as earth’s final man, roaming the streets of Tucson, living day to day as though he were reverting back to an earlier, primordial period. And yet the best part of the show is the actress Kristen Schaal’s portrayal of the last woman on earth, the quirky but lovable grammar Nazi, Carol Pilbasian (one of my favorite actresses who stole scenes in Flight of the Conchords). The show has its moments, especially when the absurdity gives way to more tender scenes between Phil and Carol. It certainly has potential.

Wings of Desire

I haven’t watched Wings of Desire in quite some time but it’s a film that crossed my mind this afternoon after reading a news article about the singer Nick Cave (he makes a cameo late in the film). It’s a wonderful film directed by the German Wim Wenders and starring a fantastic Bruno Ganz, the American actor Peter Falk and Otto Sander. Hailed by critics upon its release in 1987, it’s a story about two angels (Damiel and Cassiel) stuck inside of a kind of purgatorial state, neither heaven nor hell, where angels are continuously present but without the benefit of the senses. The two of them wander the streets and drift about the West Berlin citizenry, unseen by everyone but children. They provide solace to the suffering and observe the human condition in all of its messy beauty, cruelty and chance. Ganz’s Damiel grows increasingly frustrated with this kind of aloof, calcified perfection. His wanting to know and to feel the emotional rawness of the human experience positions him in opposition to his duties. The desire to love and be loved, to taste both joy and pain begins to out weight the promise of an immortal yet detached life (one born before there were humans) of angelic service. Wenders has constructed a poetic fable about the embrace of life without the trappings of sentimentality.

Under the Influence

Those who know me know that I love to watch movies. I also enjoy learning about the historical development of the art form of movie-making, including the evolution of  its ideas, practices, technological changes, influences, major innovators, and economics. The 1970’s was an important era in film-making and the documentary film A Decade Under the Influence: The 70’s Films That Changed Everything is required viewing for those interested in the medium. Many of America’s best directors emerged in the wake of the dismantling of the Hollywood studio system in the late 1960's to tackle new subjects with raw, unfiltered candor and artistic verve. This film tells their story. 

Too Much of the Same

Young people will fall madly in love. War is hell. You could fill a football stadium with the number of books and films that have taught us these truths and so I cannot recommend Testament of Youth based in large part upon its frustrating resistance to provide viewers with something original. The dream crushing effect of war on the young people who wage it and those who must carry on afterward are dutifully, if not numbingly so, depicted with one tragic scene after another. Based upon the popular World War I memoir by Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth’s actors try their best (the actor Alicia Vikander is destined for stardom) to work with a lethargic screenplay that simply doesn’t allow viewers to feel anything but deadening sorrow.

White God

The 2015 Hungarian film White God is part R-rated fairy tale, part coming of age narrative, part allegory, and part revenge thriller. If this sounds tonally uneven, you’d be spot on in your analysis. These seemingly disparate constituents do by the end, congeal to form an interesting if not imperfect film. Set in a city that has banned mixed dog breeds, a young girl hopelessly searches for her pet after her father abandons the dog along the side of the road. Needless to say, the abused and demonized dogs in this town aren't going to take it sitting down and thus the element of getting even courses throughout. The film on the level of directing and dog training certainly deserves the acclaim it has received given the amazing results without the use of CGI.

Let the Fright One In

I am a fan of good horror, though good horror can be hard to find. If you’re looking to settle down with a top-notch scary movie for Halloween, here are some recommendations for you:

It Follows  – Hailed as an instant classic upon its release earlier this year, this unnerving, Detroit-based film centers around a curse that passes from person to person in which a terrifying, body-jumping entity pursues the victim ceaselessly—and you don’t want to be caught by it!

The Babadook  – Imagine Tim Burton wanted to use his storybook style to make you soil your pants. That’s what the titular creature in this Australian thriller feels like. Top it off with an unhealthy dose of the parental stress that comes with being a single parent raising a child with severe emotional problems, and you’ve got an intense, teeth-grinding thriller!

Let the Right One In  – When an emotionally-abused boy befriends the strange new girl next door, who happens to be a vampire subsisting off blood reaped in a most unseemly manner, the two socially isolated creatures form a relationship that leads to both brutal vengeance and unnerving consequences.

28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later – Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle kicked the (then un-played out) zombie genre into high gear by making his rage virus-infected undead fast! Both the original and the sequel provided plenty of both scares and social commentary.

The Cabin in the Woods  – This horror-comedy is at once an homage to popular genre tropes throughout the ages, and a gory, twisty, laugh-out-loud thriller in and of itself. From producer, co-writer, and all-around geek guru Joss Whedon, this is one scary Cabin you want to visit!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – A couple of bumbling rednecks attempt to have relaxing vacation at a cabin out in the woods, but are mistaken for murderous lunatics by a gang of college kids who keep dying off through gory-yet-hilarious accidents.