Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Life Is Sweet (1990) solidified British director Mike Leigh’s place as one of the United Kingdom’s most important director/writers. He has since gone on to make several other classic films (Naked, Career Girls, Another Year, Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky) that explore the darkly twisted world of British working and middle-class life, mixing together black humor with social critique that rarely comes across as contemptuous or mocking. His humane and sympathetic depictions of the shadowy and grim aspects of life are easier to digest because of his deft touch for highlighting the absurd. Leigh’s gift for creating quirky characters out of relatively mundane stories about everyday life is at the heart of many of his films. Life Is Sweet perfectly illustrates this vision, where the grotesque, odd and cruel are wedded to the jovial, loving and poignant. Be prepared to watch with subtitles given the thick accents and quick deliveries of the dialogue.
Life is sweet
The BBC’s stylish and entertaining series The Hour has been compared to Mad Men, in large part because of the approximate time period (mid 1950’s) the show is set and because of the copious amount of drinking and smoking that characters indulge in. Aside from those superficial comparisons, The Hour tackles mid-century, hot-button political issues through the prism of an hour-long, topical news program (think early 60 Minutes) run by young, idealistic journalists who inevitably butt heads with both their own management as well as the political establishment. What makes the series really tick is the element of mystery that emerges to provide a bit of tension and noir to this excellent, two-season drama.
Described as a film about “everything and nothing”, Yi Yi (Translation: A One and a Two) is writer/director Edward Yang’s moving, slice of life portrait about the up’s and down’s, beginnings and endings, laments and celebrations of a middle-class Taiwanese family. Centered on N.J. and his family, Yang depicts the magical moments in life by juxtaposing them against a backdrop of the mundane. The film begins by showing us a wedding and then quickly cuts to N.J.’s mother-in-law’s failing health, stressing the overlapping and sometimes paradoxical nature of life’s imperfect unfolding. Yang expertly evokes the poetry of the everyday, urban experience in all of its messy dynamics, showing us the beautiful interplay between humor, tragedy, romance and ritual from the perspective of the three primary characters, the father, teenage daughter and the eight year-old son.
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 Trouble with the Curve is about an aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout, Clint Eastwood, who uses his experience and gut to pick a player vs. the modern way with computers. Clint Eastwood is a cantankerous man who loves baseball, misses his dead wife and has a love but leave me alone relationship with his daughter, Amy Adams. They convey all this to us in the first few minutes, by showing Clint Eastwood home alone, stumbling into a coffee table and kicking it out of the way and, my favorite, getting a can of spam and eating directly out of the can. (Side note, shortly after seeing this I bought a can of spam. I did not eat it directly out of the can mainly, because my wife is still alive and would not let me, but I did dump it out on to a plate and cut off a hunk and ate it raw, after first verifying that it is fully cooked.)
Philip is one of the new upcoming modern computer wise scouts with ambition and is trying to push Clint Eastwood out of the way. The movie centers around the scouting of a likely looking baseball player in North Carolina; do the Braves sign him, do the Red Socks, is he a good pick? OK, so now let’s add in some other things. Clint Eastwood is losing is eyesight, Amy Adams is his lawyer daughter and lets spice it up, Justin Timberlake is a scout for the Red Socks and likes Amy Adams.
You do not have to know about baseball to like this movie but if you do it probably enhances it for you. Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake have drinking contest about past players and infamous plays. Personally, I did not know who or what they were talking about but still enjoyed their competition, drink if you do not know. I wasn’t drinking Justin and Amy were.
The movie gets its name from a type of pitch, The Curve, they also call it the change up unless I got that confused with one of those other pitches. Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood see Bo Gentry as having a major flaw in that he cannot hit a curve ball, hence the title of the movie. They talk about Bo hitching and his hand drifting. I have no idea what that means but you do not have to, Clint Eastwood knows and it is this personal seeing with his own eyes, hearing the clink of the bat that makes him a better scout than the computer. There was one part of the movie that I can relate to on a personal level, there is a batter who is up just before Bo Gentry and Gentry says get a hit so he, Gentry, can get up to hit. This poor little scrawny, glasses wearing guy is now praying to God to get him on base. He gets hit with the ball and gets to walk to his base. On his way he is saying to God, perhaps you misinterpreted my request. This part of the movie, while not in any way the major thrust of the movie, hit home for me. How many times was I up to bat and said the same prayer and sadly it was in Softball (which for those who do not know, is a bigger ball and as its name implies softer). You rarely get to take your base for getting hit by a softball. My prayer was broader than this guy’s, he wanted to get on base thus preserving Gentry’s ups. My prayer was just let me hit it, I did not care where it went just let me hit it.
Clint Eastwood is struggling to hang on to being useful, more than that, to being independent. He is getting older, computers are encroaching in on him, his eyesight is failing. Amy Adams sacrifices her promotion, her boyfriend, in order to be with her dad and help him. Ok so did you get the gist of this movie, it involves baseball but it is more than a movie about baseball, it is a movie about family love, old age, scum who try to push you out of the way and about what is really important in life. And hey if that is not enough for you, then watch Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams both are cute as a button.
The Trouble with the Curve
Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) is one of the most moving dramas you’ll ever see about the intersecting tension between social norms, generational conflict and familial love, a theme that the great Japanese director masterfully explored with a fierce intelligence and a tender poetry in his post-war films. Late Spring is the story of a daughter who is so dedicated to her father’s well-being that she eschews her family’s urging to marry. At the age of 27 and unmarried, her single status is deemed a problem to be solved by her loving father, persistent aunt, and cynical best friend. Why marry for the sake of fulfilling an outdated social tradition that isn’t necessarily a guarantee for happiness in modern Japan she argues. While her thoughtful and understanding father may agree with such an argument, there exists few options for her future that don’t include either an arranged marriage or one born out of romantic love. Each character is so richly rendered and conceived that antagonists are excluded altogether. Everyone seems to have a legitimate point of view which is a quality that highlights the respectful and sympathetic nature of Ozu’s grasp of character. Highly recommended viewing. For a clip go here.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to be just a Head. You could not move your arms of your legs. The Intouchables is a story about such a man and his caregiver. Philippe is a French aristocrat who has a great life until his wife gets a disease and dies and Philippe who was always into high adventure, goes paragliding and crashes. He crushed his 3rd and 4th vertebrae and is now a quadriplegic. The movie is about the relationship of Philippe and Driss. Philippe is interviewing numerous caregivers, they all have great credentials and PHDs. Driss is applying because in order to draw is benefit (unemployment check) he need to show he is actively looking for a job, he has no real desire to have this job. He talks to Philippe in an off hand manner, “don’t get up”. Philippe likes him because he doesn’t treat Philippe as an invalid. Driss is offered and takes the job. We are given glimpses into what Philippe has to do every day. Massages for the arms and legs, strapped in a chair so he doesn’t fall out, turning pages with a stick in his mouth. Driss asks him if he ever thought of just shooting himself. Philippe says yes but I cannot move my arms or legs so I am stuck. Luckily for Philippe he is rich. He says the Doctors can keep him alive until he is 70. Philippe introduces Driss to the arts, and music, Bach etc. Driss also shows Philippe what he considers good music Earth, Wind and Fire. Driss is a kid from the streets. He introduces Philippe to smoking marijuana to help with the pain. When Philippe has to travel they go the van and Driss says no way is he loading Philippe in the back of the van like a horse, he puts him in the front seat of a muscle car and roars down the road. This is a story of a developing friendship. This movie is foreign and in French so if you do not understand French, you could take a crash course on our Rocket Language lessons, free if you have a library card or for this you could turn on the subtitles. The thing that really touched me is that this is a true story. At the end of the movie they show the people that this movie was based on.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to be just a Head
Paul Newman starred as a dynamic antihero in several movie classics throughout his long career like The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Texan novelist Larry McMurtry has had many of his works adapted to the big screen and television including Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show. In 1963 the two came together for the making of Hud, one of Newman’s greatest performances. Newman plays Hud Bannon, the bad son who ruins everything he touches, including the bumpy relationship between his moralistic and principled father, his impressionable nephew Lon and the housekeeper Alma, wonderfully played by Patricia Neal. When not carousing with married women, Hud engages in drunken brawls and tension-filled conversations with his father about the future of the family ranch. Newman is brilliant at playing the hard-living, self-absorbed son who perceives situations only in terms of selfish opportunism. Directed by Martin Ritt (Norma Rae, Sounder, Hombre, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), Hud still stands up as a subject-rich, gritty, family drama set amongst the austere landscape of Texas.
I still remember the feeling. I was living in Washington, D.C. It was my first time living in the big city as an adult. I missed the woods, the countryside, the quiet calm of my hometown in the Midwest. That D.C. summer was so hot. When you stepped outside, you felt like you were instantly encased in Saran Wrap, so cloying was the humidity. My roommates and I didn’t have air conditioning, so we sought relief at the movies.
I lost myself for two hours, watching a group of boys frolic through the woods, narrowly escape a speeding train and a vicious dog, discover another boy’s body. I could feel the cool of the green forest and the pull of childhood summers. When we left the movie theater, I was shocked by the brightness and the return of the feel of Saran Wrap. I was so immersed in Stand by Me that, at first, I didn’t remember where I was!
Great movies can do that to you.
With Memorial Day around the corner, here are some movies, set in summer (or at least a good chunk of it,) to help you celebrate the season’s ‘unofficial’ start:
Red Hook Summer
The Magic of Belle Isle
A River Runs through It
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1 and 2)
Clifford the Big Red Dog. Dog Days of Summer (and other family titles)
Stand by Me