Sometimes a film just does not hit you in that sweet spot the first time around. You leave the theater disappointed or mulling over what could have been. Maybe it was you all along, your mood, your unwillingness to open up and let the film work its magic. I’ve hated films that I later came to love and respect after my initial dismissal. There are those films that grow on you and seem to get better with multiple viewings. The first time I saw Frances Ha
, I moaned about its obvious influences and reference points (Godard, Truffault). The protagonist’s personality was a bit grating and I just couldn’t give in to the film’s cloying repackaging of the classics of the 60’s and 70’s it so self-consciously aped. It simply felt derivative, the kind of film where its style devours its substance. I recently gave it a second chance and have subsequently modified my early misgivings. I think the elements of the film I enjoyed the most were the editing and the choice to convert the digital footage into black and white. It’s quite the looker. Now there are a lot of movies not worth a first viewing let alone a second but sometimes there comes a long a film that deserves a reconsideration.
In Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, a prickly forty-something with a long-festering grudge named Guy inserts himself into a national spelling bee for children by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules that simply stipulate that entrants must not have graduated from the eighth grade. Having dropped out of middle-school (and accompanied by a scrappy journalist ready to spread negative publicity at the drop of a hat), Guy meets with begrudging official compliance that quickly erupts into a national controversy surrounding his participation. It doesn’t help that Guy gleefully exerts dominance over his otherwise bright and intelligent kid competitors whom he eviscerates through intimidation, manipulation, fear, and his own grown-up word power. Guy’s motives for competing against children in a nationally televised spelling bee are kept a mystery until near the end of the film, but suffice it to say, he’s an angry man looking for revenge. Along his path of destruction, Guy develops an unlikely friendship with an overly earnest 10-year-old named Chaitanya, who proves to be quick study in the ways of profanity, reckless behavior, and ultimately, stubbornness.
Bad Words is a pleasantly vulgar, pitch-black comedy that avoids the usual tidy-bow happy-ending clichés found in most Hollywood comedies. Guy is unabashedly unpleasant and his slightly paternal relationship with Chaitanya never gets cloying. It’s worth checking out if you like your humor dark and inappropriate. The talented cast includes Kathryn Hahn, Philip Baker Hall, and Allison Janney.
I don’t tend to gravitate toward watching romantic comedies because they’re often disposed to possess the worst elements and doses of sentimentality, cliché, bathos, and stereotype. That’s not to say that in the proper hands, these qualities cannot be reasonably constrained so as to reduce the number of times I consider hitting the eject button. Having said that, I decided to watch a small film from Ireland called Run & Jump
(a title that is a metaphor for loosening up and living life more freely I suppose). It hits most of its notes most of the time and we can probably attribute this to the fact that Hollywood didn’t have its hands all over the writing, casting or plot. There’s only one recognizable actor here and that’s former SNL star Will Forte. There’s plenty of Irish quirkiness (see: stereotype) but it’s finely regulated so as not to delve into caricature. The film centers on a stressed out family coping with the changes to their home life after the father suffers a stroke, leaving him with cognitive and physical disabilities. Forte plays a doctor living with the family and studying the father’s recuperation. A triangular relationship begins to form as Forte and the wife begin to bond, messing up an already chaotic domestic situation. It’s not all dour melodrama as there are plenty of moments of humor sprinkled about this well-crafted film.
This year’s Cannes Film Festival winners included Winter Sleep (Best Film), Bennett Miller (Best Director), Julianne Moore (Best Actress) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor). Here’s a look back at some of the films that have previously been awarded the prestigious Palme d’or.
Taste of Cherry—1997
The White Ribbon—2009
Jim Jarmusch’s films are not for everyone. They are, however, incredibly influential and important in the history of American cinema. Slowly paced with quirky characters, his droll, often minimalist films explore the ironic and humanistic with equal attention. His films feel very American (the America on the margins that is) while at the same time, they are populated with Italian cabdrivers (Night on Earth), teenage Japanese tourists obsessed with early rock and roll (Mystery Train), and Hungarian immigrants (Stranger Than Paradise). His most accessible and mainstream movie to date is Broken Flowers, due in large part because of Bill Murray’s great performance as a romantically failed, wealthy introvert who wears retro sweat suits while sitting in the dark (during the day), watching television. It’s only when he receives a mysterious letter from one of his ex-girlfriends, suggesting that he has a son he never knew about, does he set out on a personal journey toward…well, maybe nothing and maybe everything. The moments within a journey are what fascinate Jarmusch about the human condition rather than a tightly sewn conclusion to a story. His cult classics Down by Law and Stranger Than Paradise cemented his reputation as an indie sweetheart with a wry sensibility and skill for reimagining genre and form by the early 1990’s. The release of his newest film (Only Lovers Left Alive) will once again shine the light on one of America’s most idiosyncratic, independent filmmakers.
Most of us prefer sound with our visual imagery when it comes to movie watching. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself to experience visual poetry and storytelling in new ways without the element of music or dialogue, here’s a quick introductory sampler of well-regarded works.
People on Sunday
Le Quattro Volte (sound, but no dialogue)
The Passion of Joan of Arc
People on sunday
I first saw Annie Hall in 1977 when it first came out in theaters. I was on a date with my now wife, who was living in Basel Switzerland at the time. The movie audio was in German and I had to read the English subtitles. I thought maybe that attributed to my not understanding or not generally getting this movie. Annie Hall won the 1977 Academy Award for Best Picture and was a turning point for Woody Allen. So when KPL got this movie in on DVD I thought I would view it again. The movie is about Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (hence the title of the movie) (Diane Keaton). It delves into Alvy and Annie’s thoughts, feelings, dealings with life or in Alvy’s case his fascination with death. Alvy is Jewish and lives in New York city and is a comedian twice divorced. Annie is undeveloped. Through her relationship with Alvy she grows, goes to community college, reads, sees a therapist and sings on stage. In typical Woody Allen style throughout the movie we see flash backs to other relationships, we see present day Alvy in past day parent’s house under the roller coaster. The part I like is when in the middle of a scene he starts a narration with us the viewer through the camera or he does a scene in a scene. For example while in line to see a movie the guy behind him complains about a director, Alvy does not want to hear this and thinks the man does not know what he is talking about. Then Alvy talks to the camera telling us that the man does not know what he is talking about, the man steps into the camera and tells us he teaches film at Columbia. Alvy then pulls the actual Director out from behind a screen and has him argue with the man. Then Alvy comes back to talking to us through the camera and says don’t you wish life was like this. Annie Hall is deemed a classic, I think I got more out of it this time around, mostly because there now is an internet and I read up on all the reasons this is supposed to be a good movie. If I had only just watched it again I think I would still leave shaking my heard. Only this time I would not be out some major dollars (actually they were Swiss Francs, this was way before the Euro). Getting the DVD for free from KPL is a good deal. BTW after the movie we got a drink at the plaza and they had orange plastic giraffes in them as stirring sticks. I still have the plastic giraffe and I still have the date (now wife) and I still do not understand Annie Hall.
In case you needed one last, post-Oscars list to use for upcoming checkout's. According to a survey of the editors and contributors of Film Comment magazine, these are the Top 20 films of 2013. Some have been released on DVD and others have yet to hit the shelves.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- The Act of Killing
- A Touch of Sin
- Computer Chess
- Frances Ha
- Upstream Color
- Museum Hours
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Spring Breakers
- Like Someone in Love
- Stories We Tell
- American Hustle
- The Grandmaster
What happens when one of the staff persons charged with helping young people overcome trauma, neglect and abuse at an at-risk juvenile home is quietly suffering from her own painful past? This is the question at the center of this wonderful, little film propelled by strong acting performances and a deft touch at balancing grim subject matter with moments of levity and humor. Grace, played by a fantastic Brie Larson, and her devoted boyfriend Mason work together to help kids manage their feelings and cope with the cards they’ve been dealt. But her strength of character and compassionate heart alone are of little use when it comes to facing her own feelings of fear, anxiety and anger. Short Term 12 proves again that a film’s success is in no way related to the number of celebrity actors, use of CGI or amount of super hero characters. Sometimes, going small produces large rewards.
Short Term 12
Written and directed by actress Lake Bell, In a World… is a charming and well-structured comedy with the obscure, yet cutthroat world of Hollywood movie voice-over as a backdrop. Bell portrays a blithely underachieving vocal coach living in the substantially self-important shadow of her “king of the epic trailer voice-over” father played by the great Fred Melamed. In a World… is funny, smart, social satire that doesn’t veer into pretentiousness and marks the debut of Bell as a writer/director to watch in the future.
In a World
Sandra Bullock may have taken on deadly space debris in Best Picture contender Gravity, but it’ll likely be Cate Blanchett that destroys her chances at winning a second Oscar come Sunday, March 2nd. That’s right, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony is less than two weeks away, which mean now’s the time to catch up on all those critically-acclaimed movies you’ve been meaning to watch. Thankfully, the Kalamazoo Public Library is here to help with this list of all the Oscar-nominated films that you can check out from us right now:
- Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips received 6 nods overall, including Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (Tom Hanks just missed the cut for Best Actor, but his performance is riveting, especially in the film’s final 10 minutes).
- Cate Blanchett is the front runner for Best Actress in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The film also received nominations for Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Original Screenplay.
- Best Animated Feature nominees The Croods and Despicable Me 2 are available now (Front-runner Frozen will be here in March). Despicable also received a nomination for Best Song with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
- Four of the five Best Documentary Feature nominations are here: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, and 20 Feet from Stardom.
- Big-budget summer films Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Lone Ranger received nominations for Best Visual Effects. Ranger also received a nod for Hairstyling & Makeup alongside fellow unlikely-contender Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.
- Baz Luhrmann’s opulent take on The Great Gatsby was recognized for Costume Design and Production Design.
- Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Hunt is currently available, while fellow contenders The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Great Beauty will arrive in March.
- The third part of Richard Linklater’s beloved romance trilogy, Before Midnight, received an Adapted Screenplay nod.
- All is Lost features a great performance from Robert Redford and was recognized for Best Sound Editing.
- Abduction thriller Prisoners is competing for Best Cinematography.
Several more Oscar contenders will be available on DVD or Blu-ray very soon:
- With 10 nominations (including Bullock’s), Gravity (available February 25th) will be a force to be reckoned with on Oscar night. It has a great shot at winning Best Picture and Director (Alfonso Cuarón) and is also the front-runner for technical categories like Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The film was also recognized for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.
- Also out on February 25th is Nebraska, which welcomed nominations for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Actor (Bruce Dern), Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.
These Oscar contenders will be available in March, and you can place a hold on them right now:
- 12 Years a Slave received 9 nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Steve McQueen), Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o).
- American Hustle was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director (David O. Russell), Actor (Christian Bale), Actress (Amy Adams), Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), and Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
- Dallas Buyers Club has 6 nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and both actors are favored to win in their respective categories.
- The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), and Adapted Screenplay.
- Philomena is competing for Best Picture, Actress (Judi Dench), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay.
- Also arriving in March are nominees The Grandmaster (Cinematography, Costume Design), Inside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing), The Book Thief (Original Score), Saving Mr. Banks (Original Score), and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Original Song).
Keep an eye out for the rest of the nominees, which are sure to follow. In the meantime, come on down to KPL and start prepping for Oscar night!
Reader’s Advisory is a term that librarians use to describe the act of linking similar titles together so that readers are exposed to authors and titles that possess comparable thematic or stylistic qualities. This is the first installment of a film version of that kind of process of suggestion. It’s not scientifically based and so absorb these lists with a grain of salt.
• Liked Goodfellas, try Miller’s Crossing
• Liked Charulata, try Everlasting Moments
• Liked The Truman Show, try Real Life
• Liked Drive, try Taxi Driver
• Liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, try Petulia
• Liked Last Year at Marienbad, try Memento
• Liked The Ice Storm, try Ordinary People
• Liked Groundhog Day, try Being There
• Liked Take Shelter, try Repulsion
• Liked Il Postino, try Amelie
• Liked E.T, try Super 8
• Liked Doubt, try The Silence
• Liked Mad Men (series), try The Hour (series)
• Liked Paper Moon, try The Last Picture Show
• Liked Harold and Maude, try Delicacy
• Liked Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy, try The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
• Liked Goon, try Slapshot
• Liked Harry and Tonto, try Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
• Liked The Newsroom (series), try Sports Night (series)
• Liked Platoon, try The Thin Red Line
• Liked Leaving Las Vegas, try Taste of Cherry
• Liked Dead Man Walking, try Into the Abyss: a tale of death, a tale of life
• Liked There Will Be Blood, try Citizen Kane
• The Bridge Over River Kwai, try Force 10 from Navarone
• Liked Blue Valentine, try A Woman Under the Influence
Force 10 from Navarone
Le Havre is a wonderful film that I missed seeing when it first showed at WMU’s Little Theater several years ago. Named for a provincial city on the northern, French coast, the film is one of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s most warmhearted and charming. Known for his less is more approach to film making, his works tend to give birth to zany, working class characters whose expressions of both joy and futility come off as droll and darkly peculiar (fans of Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch will appreciate the brand of humor). Le Havre is a simple story: an elderly shoe shiner stumbles into a plot to hide a young, African boy from the authorities who seek his deportation. Ex “bohemian” Marcel Marx has a difficult enough time as it is in dealing with his critically ill wife. His newest project, one that he had not expected, is to safeguard with the help of his fellow townspeople, a young refuge named Idrissa, who is seeking to travel to London. With the authorities hot on his trail, Marcel keeps ahead of the fuzz with just enough assistance from Le Havre’s band of bartenders, rock musicians, and an unlikely detective. It’s a beautiful fantasy as much as it is a political fable about community and humanity.
The Criterion Collection has a wonderful page on their website that catalogs the 10 favorite Criterion releases from a wide assortment of actors, musicians, directors, writers and other arty types. I always find these selections a good place to start my search for the unseen and unknown. If I were asked to list my ten favorite films from their collection, I’d start with the following:
1. Harold and Maude
2. Hiroshima Mon Amour
3. Au Hasard Balthazar
4. The 400 Blows
5. The Royal Tenenbaums
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc
8. Late Spring
9. Pierrot Le Fou
10. In the Mood for Love
Whether or not you count yourself among the many that study and delight in the works of Shakespeare, you might find that Joss Whedon’s recent interpretation of Much Ado about Nothing is well worth a watch. While the cast speaks in Shakespearean tongue, Whedon and his cast convincingly tell this story as a modern one still worth our attention.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white. The contemporary setting (Whedon’s family home) and the choice of real-life clothing rather than period costuming support a phenomenal cast who deliver the lines in the cadences of contemporary speech, making the story feel fresh, the plot devices less archaic.
I was particularly riveted by Amy Acker’s portrayal of the smart, sharp-tongued Beatrice, who is moved to moral outrage at her cousin Hero’s undeserved disgrace at the wedding altar, displaying what would have been thought of in Shakespearean times as more “manliness” than any of the men who stood by instead of defending Hero’s honor. Her delivery of the famous “O that I were a man” speech gave me chills as she exclaims her frustration at her powerlessness as a woman of her time and her fury that she “cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.” Her performance is done with such conviction, she seems anything but powerless; if anything, she seems heroic (no word play intended). Ultimately, of course, Beatrice embraces the man she’d so adamantly mocked before, having challenged him to become a man worthy of her.
While the story is rife with drama, deceit, and what passes for romance, there’s plenty of physical humor, with Benedick rolling in the grass outside the windows and Beatrice hiding in the kitchen to overhear conversations undetected, and comedic relief in the delightfully self-important security guards: bumbling tough guys whose swagger is intentionally and plainly laughable.
Thanks to one director's interpretation and a talented cast, I've never enjoyed a Shakespearean tale as much as I did this movie. Perhaps you will, too.
Much ado about nothing