Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
There are many times in life when we take an action that cannot be undone, and in so doing, head down one fork in the road, never to possibly return to the other path again. I was struck, watching Chely Wright, Wish Me Away, how real that is when someone comes out. Ms. Wright, popular country music singer-songwriter, CMA winner, was raised in a conservative God-fearing home and community. As a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a country music star and she determined to work heart and soul to reach that goal. At the same time, she recognized her crushes on girls and prayed that God would help her somehow overcome her feelings, that God wouldn’t let her be gay.
The documentary incorporates interviews with primary people in Wright’s life (family members, other creative collaborators, people from her hometown,) heart-wrenching homemade videos created by Wright during some of her most despairing moments, plus footage of Wright meeting with her spiritual advisor and, later, her publicist.
Wright’s coming-out process was exquisitely choreographed. The release of her autobiographical book, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, this movie and numerous public interviews (with Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and others) were all scheduled to happen one real close together, for maximum exposure. In one interview, Rosie O’Donnell bluntly states: “You’re out, honey….You’re out all day. You’re out forever!”
Chely Wright, Wish Me Away
If I had to choose my top film for 2013 today, it would surely be Mark Cousins’ epic series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a serious film connoisseur’s dream documentary that covers the history of film from its 19th century origins up through the present. Cousins, never timid to express his own attitude toward the nature of both the economics and politics of the film industry, weaves the technical, cultural and artistic evolution of movie making through the lens of both that of an erudite chronicler, passionate critic, and corrective revisionist. He summarizes the development of movies as both an art form and as a business enterprise. He deconstructs established myths and ‘official’ accounts of film’s development while respectfully pointing to the shortcomings of conventional perspectives on the canon. His thick Scottish/Irish brogue may be too derisive an element for some viewers to overcome but overall (the project is obviously too personal for Cousins to have employed another narrator), Cousins’ work will for some time constitute the benchmark for others to follow.
Cousins navigates the viewer through the decades, styles, genres, technical innovations and regional characteristics of the major epicenters of movie-making (Hollywood, France, the Soviet Union, Sweden, Japan, and Italy) introducing us to both American films emanating from the Hollywood star machine as well as those less acknowledged masterpieces made throughout the Asian, Latin and African world. The strength of Cousins’ view, that the story of film up until now has been one of exclusion and omission, arises from his ability to present an international collection of seminal directors and films, showing how these works and the talented minds behind their production arose parallel to more celebrated works of the Western world. Much of this history has been driven by the tension and balance between art, commerce and ideas, which Cousins explores throughout the series with great attention to detail and with obvious affection for the subject. The usual suspects are all here, including, Thomas Edison, Sergei Eisenstein, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Howard Hawkes, John Ford, Jean-Luc Godard, Fredrico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Steven Spielberg as well as lesser known directors like Hind Rostom in Bab.Al-Hadid, Abel Gance, Erich von Stroheim, George Albert Smith, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Lynne Ramsay. Cineaphiles rejoice, your love letter to movies has been made.
The Story of film: an odyssey
The new documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns (The Central Park Five) is an outrage-inducing expose of the insidious injustice carried out upon five New York City teenagers in 1989. The story begins with the brutal attack of a jogger in Central Park. From there, the police department and prosecutors seek out those that they could label as the perpetrators, not the actual rapist. The evidence would suggest that investigators were neither interested in justice nor the truth about who was responsible for the vicious crime. The city explodes in racist condemnation of the teen suspects with much of the media and political class trying the case in the court of public opinion and tabloid. This is a must-watch film that should be shown in every classroom across this country.
The Central Park Five
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."
One of last year’s most electrifying documentaries, The Imposter will leave an indelible mark, if only to remind you how entertaining (and ultimately sad) the interplay between fact and fiction, truth and fantasy can be when linked to a thriller of a story. One cannot describe this film without spoiling much of the suspense but viewers are likely to be both scratching their heads and muttering such things as “really?”, “no way!”, and “are people really that stupid and gullible?” How does a missing 13 year old boy from Texas mysteriously reappear in southern Spain, claiming he’d been kidnapped by military personnel, tortured and sold into slavery, convince the boy’s family and government officials that he is in fact the missing teen? Well, the answer to that and much more will likely leave your head spinning as you consider the subjects’ motivation and capacity to deceive. Fans of the runaway hit Catfish will find a great deal in The Imposter to like. View the trailer here.
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
Another Oscar season has come to a close, and it was quite a successful one at that. There were very few upsets or surprises, which helped this movie geek dominate his Oscar pool, getting 21 out of 24 correct – a tie for my all-time best. The Academy made up for snubbing director Ben Affleck by awarding Best Picture to the well-deserved Argo. The visually-stunning Life of Pi took home the most of the night with four, including one for director Ang Lee, who managed to turn what many felt was an unfilmable book into a crowd-pleaser. Skyfall became the first James Bond film to win an Oscar since 1965’s Thunderball. Lincoln ’s Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person ever to win Best Actor three times. And Pixar’s Brave just beat out the video-game-themed Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature, which is ironic considering poor Ralph spends his entire movie trying to win a trophy just so people will love him. You’ve earned top score from me, Ralph.
If you’re behind in your Oscar viewing, a handful of these award-winners are available for home viewing now, right here at the Kalamazoo Public Library:
Several of the Oscar winners are coming soon, and you can place a hold on them now:
Check back for the availability of Silver Linings Playbook, winner of Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence); Les Misérables, winner of Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Mixing; and Amour, winner of Best Foreign Film. The release dates of these films will probably be announced soon.
So what did you think of the Oscars? What were you glad to see win? Which categories would you have preferred to go differently? What was your favorite film of 2012?
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
Wayne White has worn many creative hats over the years (art director, painter, puppeteer, music video director, set designer, animator, comic book illustrator, and so on) but what is most striking about this incredibly accomplished artist is his enthusiasm for integrating humor, levity and fun into his work, a rare mission for someone who has been embraced by both the entertainment industry (Pee Wee’s Playhouse) and the fine art world of museums and galleries. Like most, I knew nothing of his life or work until I saw the wonderful documentary portrait of this high energy personality called Beauty Is Embarrassing. You’ll learn about White’s humble, Southern origins and about his artistically constituted family (including his wife Mimi Pond). There are also tender moments in between the laughter and absurdity where White discusses his upbringing and the support he had growing up from his parents. This is a great film that will inspire your inner artist and rebel.
Beauty is Embarrassing
Gerhard Richter Painting is basically a straight forward, gimmick-less documentary presenting the world’s most famous painter doing what he does best--making art. The aloof Richter, now in his 80’s, shows few signs of slowing down though he admits during the film that he’ll call it quits when there’s nothing left of interest. The most fascinating part of the film, which will appeal to those who are working artists themselves, are the scenes revealing Richter’s techniques, many of which are suggestive of both an unpretentious approach and a meticulous thoughtfulness to the act of creation. Few will deny the genuine eclecticism of his highly celebrated oeuvre and fewer yet, will be able to afford one of his sought after paintings even if you win the Lotto.
Gerhard Richter Painting