For fans of the Scottish musical group Belle and Sebastian, it will come as no surprise that the recently released musical God Help the Girl is a film that mirrors the vision, style and conceptual interests of the band’s singer Stuart Murdoch. Murdoch wrote the music and the script as well as directing this charming, respectable first effort. Light on the maudlin and mawkish for a musical, yet a bit heavy on the “yeah right” moments, those who fall for the modish surface of the film and who already enjoy Belle and Sebastian’s tunes will embrace the film’s strengths while likely ignoring the uninspired story that centers on the forming of a pop group.
After a recent binge-watching of the fantastic BBC series Call the Midwife, I decided to explore other British films that were made or set in the post-war era, focusing my interest upon the 1950’s and early 60's, a time when England faced significant social and economic challenges. Many of these films depict the private trials of characters confronted by rigid class divisions within British society as well as the social and personal costs of having to rebuild after the war ended.
The Browning Version
The Horse’s Mouth—Before he played Obi-Wan in Star Wars, British actor Alec Guinness played a highly dedicated painter of loose moral fiber in this 1958 comedic romp.
The Deep Blue Sea—Terrence Davies’ most recent film is a tender, wonderfully acted and beautiful evocation of a married woman’s love for another man and the troublesome conflict between adhering to social norms or following one’s heart (see also: A Brief Encounter).
The Long Day Closes—This quintessential Terrence Davies film that put him on the cinematic map, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young man’s difficult and complicated engagement with adolescence. Gorgeously shot, edited and scored, this is Davies dreamy evocation of memory and nostalgia even when it delves deep into the sorrows of growing up during difficult times.
Of Time and the City
This Happy Breed
This Sporting Life
The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner—A film about an angry young man’s struggle against social norms that tangentially raises critical questions about the legitimacy of authoritarian institutions that mediate relations between the haves and have not’s.
The Hour—Only two seasons long but a great BBC series that like Mad Men, depicts the emergence of an industry (television journalism) as it struggles to develop amid the ever present social anxiety and fear of Eastern Bloc communism. Loads of intrigue and plot twists!
I like rapture movies. Typically they spend the first hour letting you get to know the characters, giving you insight into the people’s lives so when the rapture comes you pretty much know who will be raptured and go up to heaven because they been good and who will remain on earth denied access to eternal life. They then spend 30 minutes showing people gone, typically just their clothes remain and how the people left are dealing with it.
The remaining is different it gives you 15 minutes to meet some people, it actually begins with a wedding and then boom the rapture happens. People just drop over dead, but in this movie the physical body is still here and they have these cloudy glazed over eyes, which gives it a creepy feel. Their souls have been released. The rest of the movie deals with the demons that come to torture those who are remaining. This is deemed a rapture/horror type movie and it lives up to its name. The message for those who remain is that you have to actually believe not just make a show of being religious. They have people left who went to church regularly and they even have a pastor, who was just going through the paces, not actually believing. For the next hour the demons attack the people that remain. Then some people start believing and they still die but they get to go to heaven. Check it out at KPL.
March was a decent month for film viewing as I've finally gotten around to seeing some high quality documentaries like The Pleasures of Being Out of Step. Here are some other highlights for your consideration.
10. Fox Catcher
9. Top Five
8. Force Majeure
7. Boy Meets Girl
6. The Overnighters
5. Life Itself
4. Days of Being Wild
3. The Internet's Own Boy
2. The Soft Skin
1. A Summer's Tale (Eric Rohmer may not be as well known as his French New Wave compatriots Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut but this late film (1996), finally released in the United States, proved his knack for chatty characters on scenic locales could still elicit charming insights about youthful romance and relationships thirty years after his peak.
Gloria loves to hit the dance floor at the singles club and the act of moving her body to music seems to open her up to both the joy and disappointment of life and that’s where we find her at both the beginning and ending of the movie. Set in Chile, Gloria follows a woman in her late fifties as she painfully twists and turns around the up’s and down’s of single life. Divorced for over a decade and with her adult children living independently, Gloria grows increasingly anxious about the passing of her golden years. She’s alone and looking for something or someone to fill the emotional gaps of her life. She believes that she has found a willing partner in Rodolfo, an older man that possesses the passion she’s looking to embrace. Actress Paulina Garcia puts in a brilliant performance as a woman of a “certain age” struggling to find stability and calm in the second act of her life.
March is Women’s History Month and so in keeping with the theme of highlighting the achievements and contributions of women involved with movie-making, here’s a list of writers, directors and some of their groundbreaking works.
Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma)
Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)
Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture)
Maya Deren (Maya Deren: Experimental Films)
Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own)
Allison Anders (Border Radio)
Claire Denis (White Material, Bastards)
Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)
Ida Lupino (The Hitchhiker)
Elaine May (The Birdcage, A New Leaf)
Before becoming a household name because of her Oscar nominated film Selma, writer/director Ava DuVernay made the poignant film Middle of Nowhere, a film that follows the trapped life of Ruby, a nurse and wife of an incarcerated husband. Intelligently fleshed out with strong acting performances, audiences will come to feel the ways in which Ruby’s life has become ensnared within a cycle of disappointments. Ruby too is a prisoner of her mother’s expectations, of her feelings of loyalty for her husband and of her growing emotional ambivalence toward family, love and professional growth. Middle of Nowhere is a sensitive, nuanced portrait of a woman undergoing a series of self-discoveries about where she was, where she is and where she wants to go.
Has there ever been a more handsome cipher than Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse, the third film in a thematic trilogy (L’ Avventura, La Notte) of sorts from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. Antonioni’s contribution to film history primarily centers around these three films and their radical break with traditional traits associated with classical movie-making and for their resistance to narrative meaning. Confounding audiences because of their slowly paced plots, minimalist dialogue and murky tones, the films are visual portraits of emotional stasis, spiritual decay and psychic ennui of Italy’s post-war bourgeoisie.
Inspired by painting and framing scenes from unique perspectives and angles, scenes of L’Eclisse are lined with modern painting’s focus on abstraction and disorientation so as to express the kinds of intense unease of characters and their sense of dread and anxiety. Vitti was the director’s muse both in life and on film during this time period and she more than adequately symbolizes Antonioni’s exploration of modern alienation and its various forms. She knows nothing, feels nothing and floats about the Roman suburbs in a kind of haze of indifference. Recommended for those interested in the art house cinema of the early 1960’s.
I’m not gonna lie: As much as I personally loved Academy Award Best Picture winner Birdman more than expected winner Boyhood, I’m still shocked that the artsy and eccentric tale of a washed-up superhero actor trying to do “legitimate theater” (and please in your head imagine that pronounced as “theee-ATER”) beat out the wholesome, relatable, coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years. I’m certainly happy for Birdman—just not so happy about what it did to my Oscar pool. In addition to Best Picture, Birdman picked up wins for Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo).
In case you’d like to catch any of the other available Oscar winners that you may have missed, I’ve listed them below. Click on the links and place a hold on a copy today.
- My favorite film of the year, Whiplash, picked up three wins for Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Film Editing (Tom Cross), and Best Sound Mixing.
- Many people won for working on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel—except poor Wes Anderson himself; the film won for Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero), Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen), and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
- Be sure to check out Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything; it was a well-deserved win.
- Boyhood's lone win was for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette).
- Disney’s Big Hero 6 won for Best Animated Feature; the Best Animated Short winner, Feast, can be found on the Big Hero DVD or Blu-ray.
- Best Foreign Film winner Ida is amazing and you should watch it--regardless of your unfortunate and snooty hatred of subtitles.
The following winners will be released soon and are available for holds now:
Keep checking back for Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore won Best Actress, Selma, which featured Best Original Song winner “Glory” by John Legend and Common, and must-see Best Documentary Feature winner CitizenFour. We don’t have releases for these titles yet, but we will assuredly carry them.
Having not read the novel, I’ll steer away from assessing how well the HBO miniseries captures the essence of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner, however, from the point of view of someone without previous knowledge of the full story, Olive Kitteridge is a grim but moving portrait of a Maine woman’s monstrous treatment of her long-suffering husband and collaterally damaged son. To be blunt, Olive is an appalling narcissist thoroughly detached from the exercise of empathy or self- reflection. Viewers will be hard pressed to locate a reason to sympathize or relate to her atrocious belittling of almost everyone she comes in contact with. We learn early on that she’s struggling with depression and that it runs in her family (a theme that runs throughout the series). Her even-tempered husband Henry cautiously attempts to express his feelings toward Olive but one biting reproach after another finds him resolved to a victim’s logic that an unhappy marriage is somehow more dignified than leaving. Olive loves to call Henry a “sap” when he attempts to show his wife, son or a bereaved young woman who works at the pharmacy any sort of love, kindness or compassion. The actors (Richard Jenkins, Bill Murray and John Gallagher) are top notch here with Frances McDormand brilliantly humanizing Olive’s inflexible and twisted moral code, bringing dimension to a character whose masked inner demons leave a wake of ruined relationships and ill will behind her.