Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake is gorgeous. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, the underwater visuals are amazing. This is a story of True Love. The demon white snake falls in love with a human. All sorts of problems arise from this but she never regrets it because she now knows true love. The White snake said she meditated once for a thousand years but just a moment with Xu Xian (the human she is in love with) was worth more. This was a great story of love based on a Chinese legend, but the best part was the visuals. It was one breathtaking scene after another. As I have a snake phobia, I wish it wasn’t a White Snake but when they are that big they look more like a sea serpent than a snake so it wasn’t too bad, only at the end did they send in the little snakes. Jet Li is the monk and he does do a lot of action. But even the fighting scenes are overpowered by the visual effects. When Xu Xian is under water the details of the plant life and the fish was spectacular. When the White Snake flooded the town and summoned the waters, it gripped you and the music swelled and you were carried away. While the story is of White Snake and her True Love with a human it also displayed the sister love between White Snake and Green Snake. When White Snake was dying Green Snake offered her life’s essence to her sister. It is a foreign film and you will have to read the subtitles but it is the visual effects that will blow you away. A fun part was the monks apprentice turning into a bat demon and the animated mice were delightful.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Can a film be at once a tender, macabre, oddball slice of campy surrealism with a heart? Few have treaded these idiosyncratic waters of exotic eccentricity better than Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Brand upon the Brain, his feature film from 2008 represents Maddin at his most mainstream, which is not to suggest that the film is going to be embraced by more than a few devotees. But if you’re willing to open your mind up to Maddin’s semi-autobiographical story about a lighthouse that serves as both an orphanage and the setting for mad, scientific experiments, you’ll be rewarded with an enchanting tale of bold, cinematic weirdness.
Brand upon the Brain
Learning of James Gandolfini's untimely passing, my thoughts turned not to his iconic role as Tony Soprano, but his recent performance in Sopranos creator David Chase's directorial film debut, Not Fade Away, one of the most honest and under-rated movies ever made about rock and roll. Though seeing Gandolfini as a New Jersey businessman, struggling to keep peace in his suburban home with his wife and children, stirs up memories of his better-known TV family man, his film father and TV father lead quite different lives.
Set in the 1960's, the film's focus is on his son, a budding musician who gives up his college education, funded by his father and an ROTC scholarship, as his rock and roll outfit, heavily influenced by the blues-based Rolling Stones, gains increasing local popularity, which leads all the members to believe they can make it to the big-time, despite the many ego clashes and professional miscalculations that derail their journey. (If this sounds a bit like the plot of That Thing You Do, be aware that the dramatic tone of Not Fade Away is much heavier, and, to me, much more realistic. The heightened realism is aided, in no small part, by the soundtrack chosen by the film's music director, Steve Van Zandt.)
All the storied culture clashes that accompanied the '60's rock revolution are on display here in their most intimate manifestations, most poignantly in the relationship between father and son. Gandolfini's character wants his son to take the career direction originally agreed upon, but as his son's ambitions grow, and his parental norms can no longer be reconciled with his son's evolving belief systems, he comes to accept the break instead of denying it, which helps to mend their strained relationship. Such sweetness is not the Soprano way.
An especially close dinner conversation between father and son in the film's third act, as well as a scene late in the film where the father bids a farewell to his son that may or may not be final, pack an emotional wallop that hit even harder now in the wake of Gandolfini's passing. Thankfully, we have this film, among many others (not to mention the now-legendary TV series), to keep his screen presence from ever fading away.
Not Fade Away
The Man with the Iron Fists was a pretty cool Chinese martial arts movie with plenty of action. I was surprised to see Russell Crowe in this movie but they gave him a knife that spins and shoots bullets. Jungle Village has several warring clans. The Governor trusts Gold Lion to protect a shipment of Gold. Well, Gold Lion did not live long, he was killed by one of his own lieutenant’s, Silver Lion. Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) arrives, he is the Emperor’s undercover agent. He comes into the Pink Blossom brothel run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), requests a room overlooking the street and 3 of the women, one of whom is currently with Crazy Hippo. Jack warns Crazy Hippo to give up the woman and not fight him then promptly knives him with his spinning knife. This isn’t a serious martial arts movie and it seems like they had fun with it. Later in the movie when Jack shoots someone with his knife he says I bring a gun to a knife fight. It’s funnier in the movie that it sounds here. There is a blacksmith played by Rza who also wrote the story, screenplay and directed the movie. He is the one who gets the Iron Fists. There is a mercenary named Brass Body. I think he was the most formidable person. His whole body turns into brass and nothing can hurt him, until the end of the movie and Iron Fists does him in. The movie has a lot of action and the basic plot is guard the gold, gold gets stolen, gold gets back to Emperor but the enjoyment of the movie is watching everyone go martial arts on everyone.
Man with the Iron Fist
It’s pretty easy to argue that movie expert Roger Ebert was America’s First Film Critic, in the sense that he was the country’s most well-known and respected reviewer of cinema. Ebert passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer. Ebert and the late Gene Siskel introduced millions of Americans to thoughtful conversations about both commercial and artistic-oriented films with their Saturday afternoon television show that aired from the mid 1980’s until Siskel’s death in 1999. Ebert’s brilliant reviews, many of which are collected in numerous books, are an excellent starting point for the novice fan of film to introduce themselves to the treasure trove of great movies. Ebert was known for his superb prose, much of which eschewed jargon and obtuse forms of critical theory. He also had a keen ability to criticize films he found intellectually stupefying or devoid of purpose with a biting sense of humor, some of which can be found below.
“The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.”
“Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.”
“Dice Rules is one of the most appalling movies I have ever seen. It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him. The fact that Clay apparently thinks this movie is worth seeing is revealing and sad, indicating that he not only lacks a sense of humor, but also ordinary human decency.”
“Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve. This is the kind of movie that gives even its defenders fits of desperation. Consider my friend James Berardinelli, the best of the Web-based critics. No doubt 10 days of oxygen deprivation at the Sundance Film Festival helped inspire his three-star review, in which he reports optimistically, ‘Saving Silverman has its share of pratfalls and slapstick moments, but there’s almost no flatulence.’ Here’s a critical rule of thumb: You know you’re in trouble when you’re reduced to praising a movie for its absence of fart jokes, and have to add ‘almost.’”
And one of his most famous disses concerns Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It "is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."
Normally when the character of Veronica Mars calls for backup, she’s summoning Backup, the intimidating canine that accompanies her when she’s heading into a dangerous situation—which, as a sharp-witted, young-adult private investigator in the fictional town of Neptune, California, she often is. But last week, Mars called for backup from a different source: fans of the much-loved, short-lived eponymous television program on which she originated. On April 13th, Veronica Mars the television show—which went off the air in 2007 after a mere three seasons—made headlines when its creator, Rob Thomas (no, not that one), and star, Kristen Bell, launched a Kickstarter project that would fund a feature film, giving new life to a cult classic and furthering the adventures of one of TV’s most beloved heroines.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s a website where motivated folks can announce projects for which they want to raise money—films, music albums, business ventures, etc.—and the general public can contribute donations, usually for some sort of tiered reward. Creators set financial goals and have a limited amount of time (30 or 60 days) to reach them. If they hit their mark, they get all the money they’ve raised to that point; if they fail, they get nothing. The “Veronica Mars Movie Project” set the highest goal in Kickstarter history: they needed to raise two million dollars in 30 days. They did it in 11 hours, becoming the fastest project on the site to hit that amount of money. As of this writing, the project has raised nearly $3.7 million—well over its goal.
If you’ve seen Veronica Mars, there’s a good chance you loved it enough to kick in a few shekels (as I assuredly did). If you haven’t watched the show, then now’s a good time to jump in head-first! Here’s the basic premise: Veronica is a high-school (later, college) student who moonlights as a private investigator for her detective father, Keith. He was once the town sheriff, but was removed from office in disgrace after accusing a local billionaire of killing his own daughter, who was Veronica’s best friend. This made both father and daughter unpopular around town. In each episode, Veronica tackles a mystery, while also investigating a season-long crime. Despite the fact that it never caught on with a large audience, VM developed a strong cult following thanks to its loveable characters, strong plots, clever writing, and hilariously quotable dialogue. So check out the DVDs of all three seasons—you won’t regret it.
In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, be sure to stop in and check out some of the many films that we own that feature the Emerald Isle. We have biographies, history, travel, documentaries and feature length films that highlight the rich and vibrant culture of Ireland.
The Quiet Man
Rattle and Hum
Beckett on Film
The Swell Season
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
My Left Foot
Rick Steves' Ireland & Scotland
A Love Divided
The Butcher Boy
As a punk rock skateboarder in the 1980’s, Another State of Mind was the most authentic depiction of life as a teenager involved in the underground music scene that any of us had seen put to film. It could only be found on late night cable television during the eighties and early nineties (you were lucky if one of your friends had a VCR and made a copy of it) and so I leapt at the opportunity to add the DVD release to our documentary film collection, hoping it would appeal to a newer generation as well as those who experienced the eighties punk scene first-hand. Made in 1982, at the time of hardcore punk’s heyday, the film takes the viewer on a cross-country journey with legendary Southern California bands The Youth Brigade and Social Distortion. There is plenty of live footage of the bands playing but the filmmakers primarily concentrated their focus on detailing the experiences of the band members as they struggled to survive the daily grind of touring in an old school bus. There’s also quite a bit of attention given to providing voice to kids the bands met along the way as well the occasional teenage denunciation (targets include: Reagan politics, middle-class conformity, religion, etc.). It certainly brought back some fond memories of my youthful days of DIY music and culture. See a clip here.
Another State of Mind
Director Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter brought him huge commercial success and an Oscar Award for Best Picture in 1978. His follow-up movie, the epic Western Heaven’s Gate, became known as a major flop of a film that almost financially ruined its studio (United Artists) and led to the label of Cimino as overbearing, obsessive and overly ambitious. For those interested in the behind the scenes drama of the making of Heaven’s Gate, see Steven Bach’s book Final Cut: dreams and disaster in the making of Heaven’s Gatefor an excellent summary. The Criterion Collection has recently released the director’s cut of this notorious film and it clocks in at over 200 minutes long.
Starring an excellent group of actors like Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, and Isabelle Huppert, Heaven’s Gate is a fictionalized story about the class and cultural conflict between the big money interests of the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association and European immigrants who were accused of poaching cattle and land in the faraway outpost of rural Wyoming. Cimino’s vision is grand and evocative of the vast, beautiful American West, warts and all. While neither a perfectly misunderstood masterpiece nor as terrible a film as its detractors have suggested, Heaven’s Gate is worthy of a viewing but be prepared for the long haul.
After years of plowing through the great films, scratching one masterpiece after another off of my cinema bucket list, I finally sat down and watched the one film that is almost unanimously regarded as the ‘best ever’—that being Orson Welles’ signature debut, Citizen Kane, released in 1941. Did it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. No film is perfectly conceived or executed and while Welles’ masterpiece ushered in a new, modern looking and sounding film that cemented his talent, Citizen Kane left me feeling a wee bit let down, mostly because much of the intrigue of the story was already spoiled for me. I suppose my expectations were unfairly high to begin with and that I was likely responding to it with judgments based upon the 70 years of filmmaking history that it had inspired.
The tale is a Shakespearean rags-to-riches-to-fall from grace formula but one that creatively unfolds byway of a frenetic, flashback narrative structure that helped to usher in a new era of innovative methods of cinematic storytelling. The acting performances are strong and the shadow-based cinematography predates the film noir style that would become popular throughout the 1940’s. The story of the making of the film is almost as interesting as Welles’ thinly disguised portrait of newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst. So even having been exposed to hundreds of parodies and references of this strikingly contemporary film, Citizen Kane was still worth the wait and definitely should be viewed by any serious fan of film.