Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
I don’t often use the superlative ‘masterpiece’ when describing movies but Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker warrants such a descriptor. This enigmatic allegory that routinely finds its way onto ‘Best Of’ lists was almost never made due to the careless corruption (it has been suggested that Soviet authorities were responsible for the film’s destruction) of the original film stock, which then forced its brilliant director to reshoot most of the film a second time even as his health declined.
Stalker, a parable film known for its long, beautifully developed scenes and cryptic plot, delves as deep as any film before or after into the murky, existentialist terrain that one finds in the cinematic work of masters Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman (Tarkovsky’s major influences). One of the most gorgeous films you will watch, Tarkovsky blends vibrant colors with sepia toned silver, with each shot meticulously filmed and edited to emphasize both nature’s beauty and its mysteries.
The film’s three characters (the Stalker, the Writer, the Professor) journey into a mysterious, quarantined off area referred to as The Zone for different reasons. Rumors abound of a secretive room that exists at the heart of this depopulated area that Soviet authorities have surrounded and barred entrance. The room will allegedly grant you a wish of your making. The Stalker, who is paid by The Scientist and the Writer to sneak them past the Soviet guards into The Zone may or may not be who he says he is. With a famous ending that rewards the patience of the viewer, Stalker is like no other film you will experience.
On a recent day, whilst in the midst of reflecting upon the great breadth of films we own at KPL and those I’ve watched, I challenged myself to list 100 of my favorite movies while acknowledging that such a list was neither full nor accurate (the problem of memory). I’m sure I’m missing some very obvious choices but here they are, in no particular order and with almost no employed criteria involved whatsoever. Later on this year, I'll add another 100 to the mix.
Harold and Maude
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There Will Be Blood
My Left Foot
Dog Day Afternoon
Au Hasard Balthazar
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The Elephant Man
The Breakfast Club
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Tree of Life
Cool Hand Luke
All the President’s Men
Night of the Hunter
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Rebel Without a Cause
The Way We Were
The Royal Tenenbaum’s
A Few Good Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Dead Man Walking
The Shawshank Redemption
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
My Own Private Idaho
The Deer Hunter
A Streetcar Named Desire
Full Metal Jacket
Little Big Man
Kramer Vs Kramer
The Last Picture Show
Do the Right Thing
Frankie and Johnny
My Life as a Dog
Wings of Desire
Silence of the Lambs
Thelma and Louise
This is Spinal Tap
Raiders of the Lost Ark
When Harry Met Sally
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
The Age of Innocence
The Big Lebowski
In the Mood for Love
Days of Heaven
Glengarry Glen Ross
The professional [videorecording]
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.)
Rare Exports is not your ordinary Christmas tale and certainly is not for kids. In this movie Santa is the Finland version. Santa PUNISHES bad kids. He whips them with a stick and makes them bleed, he puts them in a pot of boiling water. The movie plot is that Pietari a young lad lives with his father who herds reindeer. Some big giant company is excavating a mountain to free an evil Santa who has been frozen and buried many years ago. On a certain night each year Reindeer run through Pietari's town and his father and most of the village herd them into a giant corral and that's how they make their money for the entire year. I'm not sure how they know which night but they do. Well this time all the reindeer are found slain, hundreds of carcasses strewn about. This is tied to the unearthing of the bad Santa even though he is still frozen. His "elves" steal every heat producing device to thaw him out. The elves are not your typical short cute elf with pointy ears. They are old frumpy naked men who do not speak. You'll have to watch the movie to see how Pietari and the villagers deal with the evil Santa and the lack of their income. Oh and this movie is in their native tongue so there will be subtitles.
Rare Exports a Christmas Tale
The clanging of bells hung around the necks of goats, the elderly herder and his incessantly barking dog, and the soft whistle of an Italian breeze. Great films don’t always need a lot of dialogue and this one is no exception. A poetic and haunting film full of rich and mysterious images, director Michelangelo Frammartino forces the audience to surrender not to the language of a fabricated and plot-driven dialogue but rather to the meditative sounds of our mundane lives, the stirring rhythms of life—birth, death, ritual, and nature are presented as long, visual poems. This film is much better experienced than described so I won’t say much other than to suggest that Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) is one of the year’s most enigmatic films, once again, reinforcing the idea that a skillful use of economy and delicacy can produce a profound and moving piece of art.
Le Quattro Volte
The Swedish coming of age film My Life as a Dog (1987) is both touching and lighthearted, successfully balancing sentimentality with multifaceted, dramatic themes (loss, death, sexuality, friendship, etc.). The director Lasse Hallstrom’s most impressive work to date (even admitting in a 2002 interview that he has yet to top it with subsequent movies), tells the tale of both the innocent blossoming of youth and the harsh realization that life’s twists and turns often result in both delight and sorrow. Set in both the Swedish city and the bucolic countryside, My Life as a Dog follows the puberty-saddled Ingemar, a precocious 12 year old that cannot seem to avoid trouble, a predicament that makes life difficult for his ill mother and antagonistic brother. Sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle during the summer months, Ingemar comes to grip with both the hard truths of life and its rich and beautiful possibilities. A Soviet dog abandoned in space, the sweet science of boxing, a confusing if not budding friendship/romance, eccentric townies and a controversial sculpture add peripheral character to this charming story of embracing setbacks with humor, love and barking.
My Life as a Dog
The veteran actor Peter Falk passed away last week at the age of 83. Most associate the late actor with the television series Columbo. However, my favorite Falk performances are from the seminal 1970’s John Cassavetes film Woman Under the Influence and the poetic Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders.
Wings of Desire
This blog is fourth and final in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
El Inmigrante (The Immigrant)
This final documentary, El Inmigrante, tells the story of one who succeeded in reaching America, one who actually had succeeded several times and was experienced in crossing the desert where he would go on to work in America sending money home to his family. The last time Eusebio de Haro crossed through the desert he would never get home again. He and his travelling companion crossed the dessert, plagued by thirst, and found themselves before an elderly Texan couple, on whose land they stood. They pleaded the Americans for water and a rifle was drawn. Eusebio’s companion ran for his life and Eusbio was shot down from behind while fleeing. From here the documentary fleshes out Eusebio’s story with accounts from his mother, father and his numerous siblings who share memories of their fallen brother and give us a sense of where he came from and why he would make the journey.
Members of the U.S. Border patrol are interviewed and found to be surprisingly sympathetic toward the travelers they guard the border against. Less sympathetic, the vigilante border guards who’ve decided their government is not doing enough and with rifle in hand they watch over their small piece of the border. You hear from people who lived and worked with the gun man including his friend and Sheriff, the same officer who was called to arrest him. and his opinions about his guilt as well as his feelings on the justness of his punishment. And we also hear from Eusebio’s brother who took the news of his brother’s death as a challenge to make the same crossing himself. Now he works in construction and sends money home and remembers his brother and his jokes. Those who made the journey or attempted it contemplate whether the crossing is worth it, whether America is the land of plenty they imagined.
Having travelled via film from Honduras and Chiapas, through Mexico by train, across the Rio and through the desert, into America itself with these poor, tired travelers, will your opinions of the immigration debate be altered, re-affirmed? Whatever your take on the issue, I think everyone can benefit from the rare opportunity of hearing the voices of those the debate is centered on, not just the lawmakers and U.S. citizens who contribute to the debate. Whatever your opinion is, each of these films are excellent stories of individuals who take up a journey of which they have fear, perhaps not too much knowledge of the dangers waiting them and with hope for better things driving them on.
This blog is third in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Mojados: Through the Night
After I watched Which Way Home, I looked to see what other films we had on the subject. Mojados tells the story of three would be illegals attempting to cross the river and then the vast expanse of Texan dessert beyond. While they are also from the far South ends of North America, these travelers have at least enough resources to do without the hardship of balancing on top of a rocking train car and simply say good bye to their families before jumping in a taxi and heading north. They are dropped off in a nondescript area along the side of the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo. Then they hide in the bushes and wait for night fall and it is from that point that all their troubles begin.
At 64 minutes this is not a very lengthy documentary but I think it delivers a sense of what this portion of the journey entails. There is some criticism aimed at Tommy Davis, the director for not doing more to distinguish the characters from one another and for the jiggling hand held camera work. However, of the films described in this blog, it is in my opinion that the director of Mojados has gone through the most pain and effort to bring us the story of his subjects (Though I can’t say that without mentioning the two years of research spent with train travelers on the part of director Cary Fukunga or the time he invested with actual members of the much feared Mara Salvatrucha in preparation for Sin Nombre). Mr. Davis is actually making the journey with his subjects as we witness it. He is climbing the same fences, drinking the same bacteria infested water, eating the same molding tortillas and standing through the same freezing dessert nights afraid to sleep for fear of never seeing the sun again. Also included are interviews and accounts of some ranchers who pity the travelers but are also vexed with the damage done to fences and other effects of their passing.
Again, I don’t want to give away the fate of these travelers, but rest assured, the endings, inconclusive or unhappy, thoroughly illustrate the desperate act of crossing the border and the likely hood of survival.
Mojados: Through the Night
This blog is second in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Which Way Home
With Sin Nombre still fresh in mind I was pleased to come across Which Way Home while I was perusing the new releases in the Audio Visual department. This was a documentary about the real-life youths making the journey by train. Even more astounding than witnessing the same dangerous circumstances of riding “el tren,” now with actual lives at stake, was the extremely young age of those who rode it. “La Bestia,” the beast, this is the affectionate and fearful title given to their transport by the main figure, Kevin “El Gordo” or “Fatty.”
Kevin made this journey at the age of 14, making him the eldest among the children featured in the film. In fact, most of the children in this documentary are only around eight or nine years old. What a terrifying thought to think of my own child riding on top of a train all the way across the length of the Mexican territory. Some ran away from home. Some never had a home and some were sent by their families with hope they would arrive in America and be able to send money back home. The children laugh, make jokes and sing just like any other children. It is difficult not imagining a child you know of the same age making the journey.
I was very moved by two travelers in particular, Olga and Freddy, whose youth and innocence seems impossible in those surroundings. They are preoccupied with childish games but also worry about the dangers of their journey and sit awake through the night telling horror stories of what happens to those swept off the roof by a tree branch and between the cars below. When they talk about crossing the desert, as they must when they reach the end of the line, they have an air of bravado. They seem unconcerned with the warnings given by social workers who have volunteered to assist and inform the travelers in their crossings. However, although the situation is pitiful there is a lot of joy in the movie, thanks to the children.
The journey they share ends differently for all of them, and without saying too much, I can assure you that none of those endings is entirely unhappy, but it should be remembered that happy endings are not in store for all those who travel this way, perhaps they are even the exceptions to the rule.
Which Way Home