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Staff Picks: Movies

The French Gangster Film

Writer, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich once said that it was always the French who told us what was great about American filmmaking, in essence, that the French tended to be more enthusiastic about particular films and filmmakers that were under-appreciated by American audiences and Hollywood studios (examples would include: Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Howard Hawkes). It was also the French who took the American crime thriller genre and elements of film noir and who with stylish flare re-modeled two decades worth of brilliant movies that depicted criminal protagonists and their anti-social activities (see: Rififi, Bob the Gambler, Les Doulos, Le Samourai, Shoot the Piano Player, and Breathless). 

One of these outstanding films is Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954), starring a washed up, leading man (Jean Gabin) and an unknown actress who would become an international star in the coming years (Jeanne Moreau). Everything simply clicks in this Jacques Brecker directed film about an aging gangster who just wants to retire after a big heist. Gabin plays the affable Max, a man who is both loved and respected by the women and fellow mobsters in his life. When his beloved but bumbling side-kick Riton becomes embroiled in a messy dispute with another gangster, Max must choose between his money and his friendship. The title translates as Don’t Touch the Loot but fans of film noir should certainly get their hands on this classic.


Year End Favorites from the Movie Collection

The following were my favorite movies of the past year that are available from the KPL movie collection. Some are classics, many are foreign language, a few are funny, and on occasion, a masterpiece or two made the list. There were also the casual discoveries of pulling a movie from the shelf without knowing that much about it and being pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to enjoy. It was a good year to cross off a few from my ever-growing bucket list of movies to watch.

The Funny: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bull Durham, The Big Chill, Bad Words, and The Trip to Italy

The Masterpieces and Classics: Safe, Rififi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Vanishing, Persona, Double Indemnity, Eternity and a Day, Autumn Sonata, Pierre le Fou, Down By Law, Walkabout, Brute Force, The American Friend, Johnny Guitar, Ida, Hail Mary

The Surprises: Omar, Certified Copy, The Landlord, Black Orpheus, The Double, Still Walking, Secret Sunshine, Purple Noon, Gerry, Mystery Train, Happy Together, 2046, Captain Philips, Bronson

Documentaries: Black Fish, The Punk Singer, Beware Mr. Baker, Benjamin Smoke, The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, These Birds Walk, Plimpton, The Armstrong Lie, Cousin Jules, Harry Dean Stanton.     

     

 


A Vampire Movie for Adults

One of my favorite films of the year comes from director/writer Jim Jarmusch, who has made a very charming movie (Only Lovers Left Alive) about...well...very cool vampires with excellent musical and literary tastes, hanging out in Detroit, lamenting the zombie-led destruction of all that which they consider civilized (vintage guitars, romantic poetry, art). The film feels a bit like a love letter to all of Jarmusch's influences and interests. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play two bummed out, very 21st Century vampires in love who have lived a very long time on earth and who are feeling a bit blue about the future of not only the world's swing toward ruin but their own crisis of faith in continuing their tiresome slog through the centuries. Hey, it's tough out there for a vampire.


Best of the Reissued Movies of 2014

It’s that time of the year to look at some of the notable films that have been restored and re-released back into cultural circulation once more. The Criterion Collection once again represents the gold standard in terms of packaging and supplementing these culturally significant works from the past.

1. The Long Day Closes
2. The Vanishing
3. Charulata
4. The Big Chill
5. La Vie de Boheme
6. Love Streams
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
8. Sundays and Cybele
9. Nostalghia
10. Safe


The Little Guitar in Movies

After watching one of the last episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which one of the characters performs a poignant rendition of the classic ballad La Vie En Rose with a Ukulele, I began thinking about the cinematic role of this Hawaiian instrument (one of my favorites). Several recent films came immediately to mind (Her and Blue Valentine) but after a Youtube search, I discovered a few others films that feature this little guitar’s power to pluck an audience’s heartstrings. For fans of the instrument, check out Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs.

From the movie Her

A compilation of movie scenes: 

 


From Femur to the Outer Reaches

Recent internet buzz about a leaked trailer for the newest installment of the Star Wars series and the release of Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar (in theaters now) got me thinking about the first, great science fiction film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a beautiful enigma of a film that continues to stand up to the test of time given its enduring philosophical and scientific themes, not to mention its visual originality and marked refusal to conform to commercial and artistic conventions. It should be noted that it was not everyone’s cup of tea when it originally opened in movie theaters in 1968 and it’s glacial pacing, minimalist dialogue and conceptual approach to narrative won’t please many of today’s film viewers but for those willing to give into its pondering lyricism and subtle jabs at satire and social commentary, you will be rewarded.


Crazy Train

If the snowy weather’s got you down and you want to watch people who are colder than you are, or if you’re in the mood to wallow in mankind’s devastating effect on global temperatures—or if you just like a good sci-fi action movie—check out the recent South Korean (but mostly English language) release Snowpiercer. Based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, best known for the rollickingly great rampaging monster flick The Host, Snowpiercer is set in a dystopian future where mankind’s attempts to reverse global warming have expedited a new Ice Age that has killed off most life on the planet. The few humans that remain live on the Snowpiercer, a massive train that continuously circumnavigates the globe. Within the train, people are divided into social classes, with the poor living in squalor in the rearmost cars, cruelly lorded over by the wealthiest passengers from the front cars. But a revolution is brewing, as man-with-a-past Curtis (Captain America’s Chris Evans) leads the impoverished on a car-by-car battle towards the engine, with hopes of overthrowing the Snowpiercer’s creator and authoritarian leader, played by Ed Harris.

Shot with cinematic grandeur, Snowpiecer succeeds on many levels: as suspenseful fight-laden actioner; as a dystopian fable; as a commentary on our environmental malfeasance; and, as an acting showcase—Tilda Swinton’s gonzo portrayal of a ministerial henchwoman is worth the proverbial price of admission alone. So check it out—the icy backdrop and chilly social undertones may just be the belly-warming tonic you need to make it through these first few frozen weeks of the season.


Dramas with the White Stuff

Do you love snow and winter? Here are some serious dramas where winter or snow plays a significant role in the plot and setting.

Mon Oncle Antoine
Metropolitan
Fanny and Alexander
The Ascent
A Christmas Tale
My Night at Maud’s
All That Heaven Allows
Downhill Racer
Fargo
The Shining
Frozen River


Sleepwalkers

Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers starts out by having Charles Brady played by Brian Krause get up in front of his class in school and read his paper about Sleepwalkers; a mother and her son and how they have to run from town to town never settling down, how the men would always come to hunt them and thus they give you the whole back story in a nut shell. Just prior to that they had a scene where Charles’ mother is telling him she is so hungry and that he has to find a virgin and bring her home so she can feed. So we know from the get go that they are these are vampire like creatures. Side note: Brian Krause was Leo on Charmed and played an angel. In this role he is the antithesis of an angel. The movie is entertaining and has cameos with Stephen King and Clive Barker which almost makes it worth watching right there. One meant to be over the top humorous scene is when Charles severs the hand of his teacher and says “People should really learn to keep their hands to themselves. Here’s yours” and he tosses the severed hand back to him. I like the way Charles and his mother change into a sleepwalker appearance. It reminded me of the television show Buffy or Angel. Their faces morph into this vampire dog like look. This isn’t the scariest movie, no big suspense build up but it is enjoyable, I especially liked the cameos and the bit overdone humor. This movie is memorable. I was talking with my friend Carlos and he saw it in Spanish. It came out in 1992, he was in the 7th grade at the time and he remembered this movie especially the murdered dead cats and that the Sleepwalkers were scared of cats. For a 7th grader this is a frightening movie.


The Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.

Last Year at Marienbad
Muriel
Citizen Kane
Memento
Fight Club
Big Fish
Rashomon
The Usual Suspects
Possessed
Forest Gump
Atonement
Fallen
American Psycho
Lolita
The Great Gatsby