Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The history of cinema is a rich and varied one that can be enjoyed and understood by engaging in works that dot the historical timeline and cross geographic borders. If you’re a film buff who loves discovering classic films and pioneering directors like I am, you’ll certainly want to keep an eye on our collection of historically significant foreign language films. Many of the greatest films to reach the big screen came about in European, Asian and Latin American countries, where filmmaking represents a fundamental piece of their cultural identities. Below, you’ll find a brief list of foreign language films made from the mid 1950’s through today that are transformative works of art that are crucial touchstones in the development of world cinema. Many of these rule-breaking films are now available from the Criterion Collection.
- Jean-Luc Godard
- Francois Truffaut
- Carl Dreyer
- Robert Bresson
- Frederico Fellini
- Ingmar Bergman
- Wong Kar-wai
- Ranier Werner Fassbinder
- Werner Herzog
- Wim Wenders
- Akira Kurosawa
- Michangelo Antonioni
- Andrei Tarkovsky
- Roberto Rossellini
- Pedro Almodovar
- Jean Renoir
- Milos Forman
- Fritz Lang
- Krzysztof Kieslowski
- Claude Chabrol
- Louis Malle
- Luis Bunuel
- Bela Tarr
- Agnes Varda
- Ashes and Diamonds
- Werckmeister Harmonies
- Aguirre, The Wrath of God
- Umberto D
- Bicycle Thieves
- The Conformist
- Vivre sa vie
- Pierrot le fou
- Tokyo Story
- City of God
- Amores Perros
- El Topo
- Cinema Paradiso
- Breaking the Waves
- My Life as a Dog
- Fanny and Alexander
- Battleship Potemkin
- All About My Mother
- Red, White and Blue Trilogy
- Wild Strawberries
- Wings of Desire
The award winning comedy Modern Family is comfort food television. It's a sugary snack that leaves you with a warm heart and feeling a bit gooey on the inside. Exaggerated characters full of zaney cluelessness crisscross through the lives of their siblings and parents, screwing things up for one or more of their family members. Because these characters only exist in TV Land, they always pull together to resolve the mishaps with a lesson learned and a family hug by the end of the show. It's not a show that will sit along side the Seinfeld's of the comedic world but for a few hours, you can rest your brain and let slip a few chuckles at these disfunctional clans as they navigate contemporary issues.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", with Ewan McGregor,
Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas. The title says it all. A good friend of
mine, JD, recommended this DVD, I watched it and liked it so much I told my
wife she had to watch it. The premise is that there is a Sheik in the Yemen
with tons and tons of money who loves fly fishing for salmon and equates it
with a religious experience. He also wants to do something for Yemen, provide
water for agriculture. Emily Blunt handles the Sheik's finances and finds Ewan
McGregor, a fishing expert, to help her make the Sheik's dream come true. Kristen
Scott Thomas is the Prime Minister's PR person (this takes place in England)
and sees this as a good PR piece. Ewan says it is impossible and starts to list
all the reasons why, Emily counters them, you need water, the sheik has built a
dam, you need cool temperature, the temperature in that part of Yemen is cool, Ewan
says it will cost 50 million and Emily doesn't even blink. The story is nice,
the interactions of the people is what captivated me. Sheik Muhammed played by
Amr Waked was an excellent portrayal of a sheik. He had the beard, the soft
demeanor, the handling of the beads while he talked. This and many other movies
are available in our AV department.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Have you ever wanted to just slap a spoiled rotten whiny rich kid? Frank takes it a step farther. In “God Bless America” Frank has been told that he has only a few months to live, he lost his job, he is divorced and his kid doesn’t want to see him. Frank decides to kill himself. But while watching television he sees a spoiled rotten rich kid complaining that the car she got for graduation was the wrong car. So Frank finds her and shoots her dead. Roxy, a 16 year old girl, sees Frank do this and convinces Frank to take her with him and go find others who are also deserving of death. They have long conversations of just who those people are, one group is people who high five. Frank teaches Roxy how to shoot and in response to his praise she quips she just pretended the targets were members of Glee. Frank and Roxy go on a Bonnie and Clyde shooting spree, Roxy even buys hats for both of them so Frank can look like a gangster and she looks like Patty Hearst. I found this movie entertaining but it’s not for those who are easily offended.
God Bless America
Technically, I've missed the mid-year mark but here's a list of my picks for recommended film viewing. I'm sure other titles will end up on the year-end tally (I suspect P.T. Anderson's The Master will be my number one) but here's a start.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
In no way deserving of the hype that this buzzed about indie has received but certainly warrants watching. A five year old protagonist's cute face and acting chops can't save this picture's flaws but many will find its story uplifting and moving.
Damsels in Distress
Indie darling and pre-Wes Anderson autuer of the twee aristrocracy, Whit Stillman returns with a film that will no doubt divide audiences along love/hate lines.
The Turin Horse
Bleak, hopeless, painfully unfolded end of the world fair shot in a sumptuous black and white that will appeal to the existentialist-leaning devotees of Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky. No Michael Bay stuff here.
The Deep Blue Sea
A somber story of heartache and loss expressed through the fine acting of British actress Rachel Weisz.
Gerhard Richter Painting
A straight forward documentary that will likely appeal to those familiar with the world's most famous living painter's role in the shaping of post-war art.
The Turin Horse
Casa de mi Padre (My Father's House) stars Will Ferrell. It
is a Spanish language film with English subtitles. It is done is the style of
the overly dramatic telenovelas. Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) has lived on
his father's ranch in Mexico his whole life. His father's ranch is in debt.
Armando's brother Raul comes home with his fiancee and says he will pay off the
debt. But Raul's income is from drug dealings. Armando falls for Raul's woman.
A war between Raul and Mexico's most feared drug lord, Onza ensues.
The story is ok but the spoof of telenovelas is what kept me
watching this movie. The mountain lion is made of paper mache and looks that
way on purpose. When Armando and Sonia are riding horses they show real horses
and then the next shot is of them on obviously fake horses. The part I liked
best was when they drove into town and parked their car. The film showed a
match box car driving on a cardboard cutout of a town. When you watch this
movie don't expect high grade CGI, this is a spoof movie of overly dramatic
telenovelas. Just go with it and let it roll.
Casa de mi Padre
Writer and director Nora Ephron passed away yesterday from cancer. Some of her films include Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Heartburn, and Julie & Julia. Known for quirky, romantic comedies, Ephron's work lives on here at KPL.
Julie & Julia
Every December, the National Film Preservation Board, established by Congress in 1988, chooses up to 25 movies to be added to the National Film Registry (NFR) List. The “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” films chosen must be at least 10 years old, though not necessarily of feature length, nor must they have been released to a theatrical audience (though you will recognize many that have.)
KPL has a great many of these films in our collection. I was intrigued to find a wide variety of movies, such as Halloween, El Norte, Toy Story (I) and Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert (produced in 1939.) Watch several of the shorts from the NFR list in Treasures from American Film Archivesand More Treasures from American Film Archives
To learn more about NFR films, check out 2 books from our collection, both with the main title of America’s Film Legacy. The older edition focuses on the first 500 films on the list, while the newer version updates readers about 50 movies more recently added to the list.
To find NFR films in the KPL catalog in the future, choose Movie Search on the horizontal menu, and type “National Film Registry” in the Word or Phrase search field.
Treasures from American Film Archives
Comedic straight men are vastly underrated. Ask anyone who the funniest person on Arrested Development was, and they’ll say someone like Will Arnett or David Cross or Jessica Walter. But I’ll defy everybody and say that the MVP of that particular piece of television gold was Jason Bateman, who had to deal with a cadre of loonies while wearing a straight face and lobbing under-the-breath quips and deadpan one-liners that could steal the show from any chicken-dancing cast member. His was a subtly brilliant performance that provided a (mostly) levelheaded balance to the rest of the kinetic comedy going on around him, and he doesn’t get enough credit for it.
Bateman’s heir apparent to the Underappreciated Straight Man throne is Adam Scott. Scott’s been playing a wide variety of roles in both film and television since the nineties; he’s the kind of ubiquitous actor who, if you don’t know his name, certainly makes you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that one thing.” Some people recognize him from his turn as Will Ferrell’s arrogant younger sibling in 2008’s Stepbrothers; others might know him from his stint on the critically-acclaimed-but-short-lived HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me. Of course now he’s best known for playing Ben Wyatt, Pawnee’s former assistant city manager, recovering Boy Mayor, and Leslie Knope’s go-to grope on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Here, much like Bateman, Scott repeatedly finds himself playing it straight to eccentrics like Aziz Ansari’s aspiring entrepreneur Tom Haverford and Chris Pratt’s dimwitted Andy. His comedic timing and down-to-earth wryness have helped turn Parks & Rec into what is easily the funniest show currently on television.
But the series that put Adam Scott on my radar was another short-lived gem known as Party Down. This two-season Starz comedy ran from 2009 to 2010 and follows the exploits of a small catering company in Los Angeles comprised of Hollywood outcasts—aspiring actors, comedians, and writers on the rumpled fringe of success, most of whom are waiting despondently for their big break. Scott plays disillusioned Henry Pollard, whose brief moment in the spotlight as the star of a popular nationwide beer commercial made him a household face, but ruined his career. Now Henry finds himself stuck in the aimless limbo of early adulthood, unsure of what his next step will be and haunted by the career that never was, thanks in particular to the constant stream of people who order him to recite his famous line from the old beer spot, “Are we having FUN yet?” Each time Henry is forced to repeat the catchphrase, Adam Scott lets you see a little bit of his character’s soul dying. It’s another one of Scott’s hilarious straight-man performances in the middle of a great show that ended too soon. So if you’re a fan of Parks and Recreation (and if you’re not, you should be), check out Party Down, because every time Adam Scott says, “Are we having FUN yet?” you’ll say, “Yes, Adam. We are. Thanks to you.”
Now it’s time for you to let us know: Who are some of your favorite underrated comedic actors and actresses?
A classic is a work of art that can stand the test of time and remain relevant, fresh and engaging years after its creation. It possesses the internal mechanisms and universal themes to produce pleasure and awake interest in its audience year after year. Its appeal will carry on long after trends and fads dissolve into the dustbin of historical detritus. The films of John Hughes are unquestionably considered classics today by both the navel gazing critic and the new movie fan alike. Hughes worked mostly in the 1980’s, mostly concentrating his writing and directing on intelligently conceived teen comedies (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) that possessed depth, dimension and pathos, characteristics that were rare for youth-centered movies of the eighties. Hughes had a string of hits that he either wrote or directed beginning with Sixteen Candles (1984) thru Home Alone (1990).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a hilarious romp that follows the afternoon adventures of a school skipping Ferris, his girlfriend Sloane and his best friend Cameron, launched the career of Matthew Broderick and also featured a cameo from a young Charlie Sheen. Arguably one of Hughes’ best “teen” films, it continues to feel unsullied by time, even today, twenty six years after it was released.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off