Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The Father of Invention stars Kevin Spacey as a "Fabricator" . In the movie they explain that the definition of a Fabricator is one who takes two things and puts them together to make something new, they also say that the fourth definition says Liar. The movie begins showing Kevin Spacey as a successful business man worth 1.6 billion dollars. They briefly show you some of his successful products and then show his latest AB Cruncher Television remote control. Unfortunately it has a design flaw and has a tendency to lop of peoples fingers. Kevin Spacey goes to jail for 8 years and the movie really begins with his release from jail and his struggle to regain a life in the business field and with his estranged family. Coming out of jail his appearance has changed from crisp business man to dirty ragged long stringy hair homeless man. As the movie progresses he slowly changes appearance loses the long stringy hair. In the transition part he wears clothes picked out by his daughter's Lesbian friend played by Heather Graham. She is not fond of him and in the guise of getting him hip clothes he looks like a loser. Throughout the movie he tries to come up with a new great idea that will put him back on top. One of the best scenes is when Heather Graham is showing him Guitar Hero and she is playing the guitar and he is on the drums, he says what would make this even better, thinking hey I can do my thing and fabricate, is if it had a microphone at which time Heather tosses one at him because the idea has already been thunked.Of course being a movie, he does come up with an idea and it does put him back on top but along the way he realizes family is important and cue the rainbows all is wonderful. I liked the movie. It will not will an award, it will not be on my top 100 list but I didn't feel like I wasted 93 minutes either. I also happen to like Kevin Spacey and Heather Graham.
Father of Invention
Every summer, several of my friends and I travel up north for the annual Traverse City Film Festival. Founded by Michigan native Michael Moore and co-chaired by Hollywood folk like Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin and Borat director Larry Charles, this cinema-stuffed week gives us a chance to soak in all the indie and foreign films, incisive documentaries and beloved classics that our increasingly sore posteriors can handle. (We also find time to relax and simply enjoy the beautiful T.C. area when we’re not staring at the silver screen.) One of our most beloved rituals is getting the whole gang together for a midnight movie of choice; these usually consist of foreign or indie horror films that will never see a wide release in the United States. Several of the ones we have screened have gone on to achieve cult-classic status: brilliant Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In; Norwegian Nazi-zombie gore-fest Dead Snow; South Korean rampaging-monster movie The Host. In the summer of 2010, we had the opportunity to screen another such instant gem—one that, until recently, had bafflingly avoided a distribution deal: the top-notch horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
T&DvE is the kind of tongue-in-cheek splatter flick that offers as much joy from satire and humor as it does from excessive carnage. The story follows the two titular hapless hillbillies as they set off for their dilapidated vacation home out in the woods. On their way, they have an unfortunate run-in with a gaggle of snobby college kids who mistake their curiosity for threatening redneck menace. Tensions mount when one of the girls, Allison, has a swimming accident and winds up in the care of a love-struck Dale and an inconvenienced Tucker. The guys try to let the kids know they’ve rescued Allison, but their methods—which include shouting through the woods, “Hey college kids! We’ve got your friend!”—lead the suspicious youth to believe she’s been kidnapped. The college kids mount an assault on Tucker and Dale, but a series of very unfortunate and very bloody accidents (let’s just say bees and chainsaws don’t mix, nor do wood chippers and lunging) result in a body count that only reinforces Tucker’s and Dale’s images as crazed murderous lunatics, while convincing them that the college kids have some sort of suicide pact.
Credit for the success of this film certainly belongs, in part, to first-time feature director and co-writer Eli Craig. But the lead cast for this film cannot be more perfect: 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden gets to expand her comedy chops as Allison; Dale is played by Tyler Labine, best known for TV’s short-lived Reaper and the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But best of all is Firefly/Serenity MVP Alan Tudyk, a talented movie and TV actor whose comedic timing is unparalleled in Hollywood. He’s simply one of the funniest guys working today.
So if you are in the mood for a great horror-comedy in the tradition of the Evil Dead franchise or Shaun of the Dead, check out Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. And then, maybe, rethink that backwoods camping trip you were planning for next summer, and come spend your late-July inside a movie theater in Traverse City with me.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Mr. Popper's Penguins
I thought I'd give this movie a try, it looked cute but it had Jim Carrey in it. I entered this movie with trepidation. Jim Carrey can be funny but 98% of the time, to me, he isn't. I find his silly shenanigans not appealing to my comedic tastes. I did like this movie, Jim Carrey was not the Jim Carrey of Ace Ventura but more of the Bruce Almighty type. The Penguins were adorable. I thought for sure they were CGI but seeing the DVD extras I found they were real. I think the DVD extras said it best, Penguins are 10 times better than puppies. I think the story they wrap around the penguins is ok but the movie is the Penguins. And yes there is bathroom humor, after all it is a Jim Carrey movie.
The movie is about a little boy and his relationship with his father and later when grown up his relationship with his family. The typical work before family and then discover that family comes first. Jim Carrey's father was an explorer, hence the sending of the gift of penguins. Jim Carrey is separated from his wife played by Carlo Gugino and has two children played by Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Cotton. Jim Carrey is a big shot acquiring real estate tearing down landmarks building new buildings, the penguins arrive he discovers love. The story is ok but the fun part is watching the penguins. I also enjoyed Ophelia Lovibond who played Pippi. She must have worked hard on her dialog. They had her speak almost exclusively using words that began with a P.
If you can tolerate or better yet fast forward through some of the slapstick parts you will enjoy this movie. If you have a eight year old who thinks a farting penguin is funny then no fast wording necessary.
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Around this time of year many people begin to watch holiday classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas, but there's a handful of great movies that take place around Thanksgiving worth checking out. I'm not thinking of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Miracle on 34th Street, or even Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Thanksgiving can be a time of anxiety, with tension between family members threatening to spoil the day, so naturally some of the best Thanksgiving films center on dysfunctional families.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): This film takes place over the course of two Thanksgivings, following the ups and downs and twists and turns in the lives of three sisters, played by Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey. There's sibling rivalry, midlife crises, and hypochondria, but the movie's true charms are the richly human characters and the outstanding soundtrack. This is my favorite Woody Allen film, as well as my favorite movie to watch on Thanksgiving.
The Ice Storm (1997): Set in 1973 suburban Connecticut, this film follows two upper middle class families over Thanksgiving weekend. Much darker than Hannah and Her Sisters, The Ice Storm explores the upheaval in social norms during that time, with amazing performances by Christina Ricci, Kevin Kline, and Sigourney Weaver.
Pieces of April (2003): April, the outcast of her family, offers to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her family in her cramped New York City apartment, but, of course, nothing goes according to plan. I have to admit this movie would be better without Katie Holmes as April, but Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt as April's parents make up for Holmes' lackluster performance, and the soundtrack by the Magnetic Fields doesn't hurt either.
Hannah and Her Sisters
There have been a slew of Saturday Night Live alumni that haven’t accomplished much of anything after they departed from the long-running late night show. For every Tina Fey or Eddie Murphy, there have been countless cast members whose careers stalled. Fey’s good friend and sometime collaborator Amy Poehler, has had tremendous success with her hit show Parks and Recreation. I just love this show for its bumbling characters and madcap storylines, all of which center around the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. Longtime fans of the show The Office will recognize many similarities between the two series, including how the show is formatted, filmed and narrated. Here’s to hoping that the quirky, smart plotlines continue to stay fresh and hilarious.
Parks and Recreation
For many Pixar fans, the original Cars was the least interesting addition to the studio's impeccable feature film canon on its initial release. At over two hours, its length may be a factor in viewers’ disdain, but I’d also guess that prejudices against NASCAR and Larry the Cable Guy play a part. Circle racing’s not for everyone (though neither is French cuisine cooked up by rats – the overwhelming praise for Ratatouille still perplexes me).
No circle racing in Cars’ sequel – it’s been ditched for the fictional World Grand Prix road race, moving the action to some of the world's great cities and their frantic pace, and away from Radiator Springs and most of its inhabitants (and the small-town ideals of the original film’s storyline). The main Cars characters found here – race car sensation Lightning McQueen and his trusty, rusty sidekick Mater – get tangled up in an international espionage plot worthy of the James Bond franchise (Mater’s mistaken for a spy, which causes trouble on and off the track between him and Lightning, until… well, like Bond films, do the plot details really matter?).
Ultimately, Cars 2’s returning characters suffer the same fate as the Beatles in Help! – they end up as extras in their own movie. The similarities between the films is striking – the goofy protagonist (Ringo, Mater) works and plays with friends in exotic locales (the Beatles’ proto-video performances, Lightning and Mater’s racing set-pieces) while unwittingly being pursued by a variety of good and bad guys led by award-winning actors (Leo McKern, Michael Caine). The results are similar as well – anyone not having seen the previous film (A Hard Day’s Night, Cars) may have no emotional attachment to the characters on-screen.
Cars 2 isn’t really a bad film – animation is top-notch as always, and if you’re really into spy flicks loaded with action, you may enjoy it without ever having watched the original. Still, since strong emotional attachment to characters in Pixar films is a primary source of those films’ greatness, Cars 2’s inability to sustain that attachment makes it the least of the studio’s feature film efforts to date.
The newly released film Submarine is a sharply written, sweetly-toned, dark comedy reminiscent of the quirky films of Wes Anderson (see: Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaum’s) and the lively joie de vivre of the French New Wave. The film doesn’t cover new ground in terms of themes and subject matter, but it sustains your interest and deserves to be seen for the beautifully rendered cinematography (the gray, sunless beauty of the Welsh coast is its own character) and the strong acting performances, especially the work of Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the protagonist’s parents. The movie is an adaptation of the novel by author Joe Dunthorne, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Oliver Tate is an angst-filled and precocious teen who sits in class, fantasizing about his own death and how his schoolmates will remember him (heroically of course). Cut from a similar cloth as Harold from Harold and Maude and possessive of the qualities of a slightly neurotic, hormonally-driven teenager (see: every coming of age movie over the past fifty years) who speaks with a rapid-fire deadpan, Oliver sets out to address his two biggest concerns as a 15 year-old: saving his parents’ marriage from a new age “mystic” and figuring out his relationship with his firework’s-obsessed, anti-romantic romantic girlfriend Jordana. In between these two goals, Oliver plays movies in his head and listens to the records of French crooners. He constructs mental films of his existential woes (what tormented teen doesn’t?) and not surprisingly, has a Woody Allen photo on his bedroom wall and reads Catcher in the Rye and Nietzsche (because as we all know, most teens are reading The Birth of Tragedy). His problems range from the domestic to the romantic, both conflicts driving him to actions both absurdly funny and achingly real. Some of the best parts of the movie are when Oliver attempts to intervene in his parents’ rocky marriage, spying on them both while conceiving of ways to bring them closer. The soundtrack, written by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys is fantastic as well.
I’m not usually a fan of mysteries, but I am a fan of Jason Schwartzman, so when I found Bored to Death in our collection, I gave it a try. Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames (also the name of the writer/creator of the show), a struggling novelist who, on a whim, places an ad on Craigslist offering affordable private detective services. Jonathan is a pothead, drinks too much white wine, and can’t get over his ex-girlfriend, making his efforts to solve cases (and just get through life in general) pretty funny. Ted Danson plays Jonathan’s boss George, a wealthy magazine editor as clueless as Jonathan, and Zach Galifianakis plays a struggling comic-book artist and best friend to Jonathan. Overall the show is fairly conventional, but it has some very funny lines that make it worth watching.
Bored to Death
Produced by Nickelodeon studios – which gave the world SpongeBob and slime – Rango was heavily promoted on Nick’s cable channel (and elsewhere) just prior to its theatrical release last March. Why not? The film is populated by talking animals, its lead character (voiced by Johnny Depp, star of Rango director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean series) is naively charming and quirky, and, hey, it’s animated! Must be a kids’ flick.
Not so fast. It’s not that kids won’t enjoy Rango – my first-grader did – it’s just that Rango may really be a cult film for adults disguised as a kids’ flick. (Yes, my kid enjoyed it, but didn’t talk about it much past the day we saw it.) While most decent kids’ films in the last decade have plenty of references kids may not get, the entirety of Rango will make the most sense to adults who have grown up with, well, films for grown-ups.
Our hapless title hero, a domesticated lizard who, like Bolt and so many other animated big-screen pets, gets separated from his cushy lifestyle in the film’s opening moments, is thrown into a gritty western scenario more evocative of Anthony Mann than Woody’s Roundup. Townspeople are terrorized by villains who control the town’s water supply (shades of Chinatown), so when the goofy stranger arrives on the scene, they look to him as their last great hope (echoes of High Noon). Nothing here the kids can’t enjoy, but what’s up with that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference?
Rango’s classic western types are thoroughly engaging characters that should have their audience really caring about their fates, whether or not it cares about westerns. That said, familiarity with the western genre should make the film even more enjoyable. If that sounds like your kind of film, then don’t wait for the kids to pick it up from our collection.
Gnomeo & Juliet is a very cute re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet. It has stars like James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Ossy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart, Hulk Hogan. It is a very well done computer animated family feature. There are Blue Gnomes in one Garden and Red Gnomes in the other Garden and of course like the story a Blue Gnome falls in love with the Red Gnome. But the great part of this movie is the adorable Gnomes. Throughout the movie they are warring with each other, having lawn mower races, and sneak attacks with weed killer. Whenever a human is around they freeze and you can hear the porcelain clink. Elton John produced this and his songs are in it. This is a fun movie for the whole family. I love the the stealthy sunflower gnome.
Gnomeo & Juliet