Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Can you name two other Romneys that have run for President? Of course, there is Mitt's dad George, but what about Hugh Romney who ran for President as a clown named "Nobody" in 1976? You might know him better as the 60’s counterculture icon Wavy Gravy, after whom Ben & Jerry named a very tasty ice cream flavor. When I lived in Berkeley, I always hoped I would catch a glimpse of him. We even tried trick-or-treating at his house, but he was not home. So I was excited to see that the library purchased the new documentary Saint Misbehavin’ about his life so far.
I knew about his Hog Farm Commune, his run for President, and his work with the SEVA Foundation and Camp Winnarainbow; a performing arts summer camp for inner city kids, but the documentary introduced me to so much more. I did not know that he was a Beat poet in the New York scene before heading to California, that he was the one making announcements at Woodstock like, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000,” or that Bob Dylan shared a room with him for a short time and wrote “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall” on his typewriter.
If you are a fan of Wavy Gravy or have never heard of him, check out this documentary and catch his infectious commitment to change the world for the better.
For those too young to remember or to have lived during the Black Power Movement of the late 1960's, this film will function as an introduction to some of the seminal figures in this political and cultural movement designed to radically reorganize society, redistribute economic power more equitably and shift the Civil Rights Movement toward a more confrontational style. Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975 is composed of mostly news footage shot by Swedish journalists eager to understand the explosive social issues confronting American society, namely, the role that key civil rights leaders like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers were playing in rethinking the movement’s strategies and goals. Throughout the film, both new and old commentators alike (Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peebles) share their thoughts about the legacy and importance of these historical figures and their relevance to today’s younger generation.
Black Power Mixtape
In the documentary Stone Reader, filmmaker Mark Moskowitz tries to locate the author of the 1972 novel The Stones of Summer, a book that was critically acclaimed when first published but that dissapeared from library shelves as quickly as its author dropped out of the limelight, never writing another book again. Moskowitz cites the book as one of his favorite reading experiences while in his twenties and is clearly fascinated by the cultural and pyschological power of great literature. He wonders why a writer as talented as Dow Mossman threw in the towell after his initial success. Along the way toward locating Mossman (assuming he does), Moskowitz interviews writers and critics about the creative process in an attempt to better understand what may have driven Mossman's retreat from writing. A small yet affecting film, Stone Reader will reinvigorate your love for the classics and for reading in general.
Charles and Ray Eames were the two most popular American furniture designers during the 1950’s but they were more than just the creative face of mid-century, American modernism. They made a variety of different kinds of films, designed groundbreaking homes, constructed wartime leg splints using plywood, were commissioned to create animated commercials for IBM and much more. Follow this fascinating journey from their humble beginnings at the Michigan-based Cranbrook Academy of Art to the evolution of their successful firm in Los Angeles. Eames: The Architect and the Painter is a dazzling introduction for the lay person and a wonderful celebration of two of the most important artists of the 20th Century for the rabid fans of their coveted chairs.
Eames [videorecording] : the architect and the painter
I should warn you that this blog post is not actually about cats, despite the titular tease of feline tomfoolery. So if you were lured in with the promise of kitties doing adorable things, well then, you probably haven’t even bothered to read to the end of this sentence. I only mention cat videos because they are, as we all know, The Reason the Internet Was Invented. Who doesn’t love to watch cute, playful creatures getting themselves into all sorts of mischievous situations? And it doesn’t stop with our solitary enjoyment; once we catch a kitty giving a dog a back massage or playing the keyboard or flushing the toilet ad infinitum, we have to make sure everyone else we know and love sees that video too. We share it on Facebook, we Tweet about it, and we talk about it in our daily conversations. The next thing you know, somebody’s puddy tat has been seen by millions of people virtually overnight. Of course, these memes don’t have to be about cats. They can be music videos, famous quotes, photographs, articles, or any other sort of thing that makes you laugh, think, dance or feel inspired. My point (which I am somewhat habitually and infamously taking my sweet time to get to) is that—before the Internet gave us YouTube and other social media outlets—it used to be a lot harder to create “viral” pop culture sensations.
That’s right, kids. As recently as the late 90s, someone would have to resort to compact discs or—gasp!—VHS cassettes to spread sound or video recordings to their friends. Today, I can give hundreds of my Facebook friends the opportunity to laugh at Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video or the strategic ineptitudes of Leeroy Jenkins with just a few clicks of the mouse. 15 years ago I would have needed a VCR and some gas money to get them to just a few dozen. Fortunately for us, there are two great documentaries that you can check out chronicling the Dark Ages of viral recordings with a couple of infamous examples that you may have missed.
The recently-released documentary Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the story of two young guys named Eddie and Mitch who, in the late 80s, created a pop culture sensation after recording the nightly screaming matches coming from the apartment next door. Their neighbors were an odd couple; a pair of older, anger-filled alcoholics who fought loudly and incessantly, and their profanity-laced, often nonsensical arguments were so jaw-droppingly shocking (and yet darkly hilarious) that Eddie and Mitch decided to record them lest no one believe the stories. Those sound recordings would be passed from friend to friend until, years later, they would be the source of inspiration for comic books, movies, a play and other culturally-inspired art.
Another documentary—this one from 2010—is called Winnebago Man,and it’s about a former RV salesman named Jack Rebney who, in the 80s, became infamous when the outtakes of a commercial he was filming were passed around, catching him in some notably cantankerous and (again) profanity-filled behavior. Still alive, Rebney is now a bit of a hermit but just as crotchety as ever, and the filmmakers’ interviews and Rebney’s subsequent confrontation with his cult popularity make for a wholly enjoyable look at an early viral phenomenon.
So, dear patrons, what are some of your favorite viral videos? What is it about these kinds of videos that make you want to share them with your family and friends? Curious minds want to know…
And now, a trailer for Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure…
…and a trailer for Winnebago Man…
…and for those who stuck around even after finding out I wasn’t writing about kitties, I’ll throw in a cat video just for you.
Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure
The film review web site rottentomatoes.com gave the documentary film The Interrupters a score of 99 percent “Fresh”. Other movie critics have also been quick to praise the gritty, unromanticized film that brings to light the challenges faced by a small group of urban mediators tirelessly working to halt violence and resolve conflict on Chicago’s most unforgiving streets. Day after day, shooting after shooting, the members of CeaseFire take to the streets in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods to work with communities on how to better resolve disputes. You’ll learn about the personal stories of these community heroes and why they’ve dedicated their lives to stem the tide of youth violence when the odds are so clearly stacked against them. There is little discussion of the social and economic factors that play a central role in why violence is such an epidemic fact of everyday life in many parts of the United States however even as it refuses to explore solutions or to critically analyze the roots of violence, this striking film is well worth exploring. Here is a video clip of one of the featured interrupters on the Colbert Report.
Like many of the famous rock stars of the 1960’s who lived fast and died young, Jean-Michel Basquiat exploded on to the world art scene in the early 1980’s, made a sizeable impact on the development of painting, was befriended by his idol Andy Warhol, grabbed headlines as an enfant terrible, and then was dead at 27. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of this painter whose relationship to the art world was deeply complicated. Once the beloved darling of the downtown art scene, then castigated as a manufactured, one-hit wonder, Basquiat’s legacy and artistic achievements have been firmly cemented with the passage of time. This is a perfect documentary to watch in celebration of Black History Month.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: the radiant child
If you love movies like I do, you may have been waiting anxiously for the Academy Award nominations that were announced this morning, which is kind of like opening day for Oscar season. And if you’re a hardcore fanatic like I am, you try to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the Big Night. Thanks to the nearby Rave Cinema, which often shows more independent and limited-release films than its in-town competitors, I can often catch many of the nominees in a timely fashion. But for some of the more esoteric films, I often find myself driving to places like Grand Rapids, Lansing or Ann Arbor, as I have already done this season. (Crazy, I know, but I did use the word “fanatic” to describe myself.) For those of you normal folks who’d prefer their cultural horizons to be expanded without breaking their odometer, I thought I would mention all of the year’s Oscar-nominated stuff that you can get right here, right now at KPL.
Four of the Best Picture nominees are available now on Blu-ray and DVD:
The film Hugo had the most Oscar nominations with 11, which included Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), and Adapted Screenplay. As of this writing, it does not yet have a release date for Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning book upon which it was based. Howard Shore’s score was also nominated and is currently on compact disc.
Other Best Picture nominees not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD but based on books you can read now include Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants (5 nominations), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close(2 nominations), and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (6 nominations).
Beyond the Best Picture list, there are plenty of currently available films that received Oscar nominations today:
David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s mega-popular mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo received five nominations; it’s not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read the book, check out the original Swedish version, or listen to Trent Reznor’s score (which was, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest snub this year).
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy received nominations for Actor (Gary Oldman), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay. You can read the novel from spymaster John le Carré, or check out the original British mini-series starring Alec Guinness.
Flight of the Conchords vet Bret McKenzie received a Best Original Song nomination for the amusingly existential “Man or Muppet” track from—what else?—The Muppets. The soundtrack is available now. The only other song nomination came from the soundtrack to the animated film Rio.
So there you have it: an exhaustive list of currently available materials from this year’s crop of Oscar nominations, complete with links to the items themselves. Whether you use it to browse for some ideas, or turn it into a checklist for immediate consumption is up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some driving to do.
(Psst. If your interested in my personal choices for the ten best films of the year, you can find them here.)
Over the holiday I was able to catch up on some film titles from the past year that I had failed to see during the previous twelve months. In particular, I enjoyed two documentaries, Page One: inside the New York Times and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, that were both listed on KPL staff 2011 Best of Lists. While very different in style and content, the films relate in my opinion because the subject of each documentary seem to be, at least at some level, “in” on the project and are using the documentary format to take a position and very effectively tell the audience something about themselves. In the case of Page One, it’s the NYT convincing us that they remain relevant and the authoritative place for news in an ever splintering media landscape, and in the case of Conan O’Brien, which was filmed in the aftermath of O’Brien’s famously contentious split with NBC and Jay Leno, its O’Brien convincing us that he is an incredibly, almost compulsively, driven entertainer. Both films have compelling characters featured prominently, with Page One its NYT media and culture columnist David Carr – who, after watching this film, I think of as the Keith Richards of journalism – and with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop it has to be O’Brien himself, he is in nearly every frame of the film and working incredibly hard to entertain everyone near him during his every waking second. I’m glad that I had the time to watch both films, and I recommend using KPL staff picks, our Movies and Music pages, and KPL staff in all our locations to help keep your “to watch” lists full of great titles.
Page One: inside the New York Times
As a new year is upon us, and we all march onward indefinitely through time, I need to admit something both to myself and to the world; I have made a huge mistake in my life. Sure, we all make mistakes, but this is a big one. What is this mistake I'm speaking of? Well, best I just get it all out in the open. The mistake is...I had never actually watched Carl Sagan's Cosmos...until just a week or so ago.
Why is that such a terrible mistake? Well, if you're asking yourself that question, you must have never seen Cosmos yourself. In that case, I think you can deduce what needs to be done!
In all seriousness though, Cosmos is a brilliant mini-series on all things related to our world, our universe, and our own existence. Deep stuff, right? Of course it is. But, what makes Cosmos so great isn't merely the information it presents to the viewer (that is, of course, an important part). However, it's Sagan's ability to present this information in the most insightful, caring and humble manner that really allows the grandeur of the ideas presented to resonate deep within.
I've attended school practically all of my life, spent countless hours learning about the stars, planets, galaxies, etc., but I never felt like any of it really connected to me. None of it ever seemed as poetic or purposeful as the way Sagan is able to describe and explain it.
Amazing as it may seem, the TV series originally aired in 1980, but the show rarely feels dated. Sure, clothing styles have changed and technology has undergone massive improvements, but the majority of the material still feels fresh and current. It would seem that humanity continues to search for answers to the same questions, now over thirty years in the future.
In short, if you have any interest in this type of subject matter, this is a series that begs to be watched. The 13 one-hour episodes may seem daunting at first, but you'll soon find yourself so enthralled that you'll probably wish there were 13 more.
You can check out all 13 hours on just 7 DVDs, all in one package, at the downtown location. Plus, you can renew as many times as needed - as long as no one else wants what you've borrowed! So, sit back, open your mind, and prepare to take a trip on the "Spaceship of the imagination."