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Staff Picks: Movies

Fuzzy Memories

Memory loss, amnesia and the human tendency to construct images and establish narratives in the service of making sense of the past has long fascinated filmmakers, writers and artists. The ‘unreliable narrator’ has been employed by many a director and writer to create a world of uncertainty and suspense within the mind of the viewer. I enjoy films that explore the discontinuity and fallibility of our memories in the service of depicting the unstable character of our perception toward others, including our own limitations of understanding of the self. This depiction of the cruelty of unpredictability has found its way inside the DNA of countless films that have dealt with the subject in varied ways, some through the vehicle of a character’s mind and others through a narrative approach.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Away from Her
Total Recall
Before I Go to Sleep
The Vow
Last Year at Marienbad
The Bourne Trilogy
Dark City
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Best Sequels

From the November/December issue of Film Comment comes the magazine’s always provocative “Film Comment’s Trivial Top 20” list, curated by their contributors. What do you think? 

Best Sequels
1. The Godfather: Part II
2. Dawn of the Dead
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. Before Sunset
5. The Bride of Frankenstein
6. For a Few Dollars More
7. Toy Story 2
8. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
9. Aliens
10. Evil Dead II
11. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
12. Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior
13. A Shot in the Dark
14. Mad Max: Fury Road
15. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
16. Sanjuro
17. From Russia with Love
18. Aparajito
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
20. French Connection II

White God

The 2015 Hungarian film White God is part R-rated fairy tale, part coming of age narrative, part allegory, and part revenge thriller. If this sounds tonally uneven, you’d be spot on in your analysis. These seemingly disparate constituents do by the end, congeal to form an interesting if not imperfect film. Set in a city that has banned mixed dog breeds, a young girl hopelessly searches for her pet after her father abandons the dog along the side of the road. Needless to say, the abused and demonized dogs in this town aren't going to take it sitting down and thus the element of getting even courses throughout. The film on the level of directing and dog training certainly deserves the acclaim it has received given the amazing results without the use of CGI.

Let the Fright One In

I am a fan of good horror, though good horror can be hard to find. If you’re looking to settle down with a top-notch scary movie for Halloween, here are some recommendations for you:

It Follows  – Hailed as an instant classic upon its release earlier this year, this unnerving, Detroit-based film centers around a curse that passes from person to person in which a terrifying, body-jumping entity pursues the victim ceaselessly—and you don’t want to be caught by it!

The Babadook  – Imagine Tim Burton wanted to use his storybook style to make you soil your pants. That’s what the titular creature in this Australian thriller feels like. Top it off with an unhealthy dose of the parental stress that comes with being a single parent raising a child with severe emotional problems, and you’ve got an intense, teeth-grinding thriller!

Let the Right One In  – When an emotionally-abused boy befriends the strange new girl next door, who happens to be a vampire subsisting off blood reaped in a most unseemly manner, the two socially isolated creatures form a relationship that leads to both brutal vengeance and unnerving consequences.

28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later – Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle kicked the (then un-played out) zombie genre into high gear by making his rage virus-infected undead fast! Both the original and the sequel provided plenty of both scares and social commentary.

The Cabin in the Woods  – This horror-comedy is at once an homage to popular genre tropes throughout the ages, and a gory, twisty, laugh-out-loud thriller in and of itself. From producer, co-writer, and all-around geek guru Joss Whedon, this is one scary Cabin you want to visit!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – A couple of bumbling rednecks attempt to have relaxing vacation at a cabin out in the woods, but are mistaken for murderous lunatics by a gang of college kids who keep dying off through gory-yet-hilarious accidents.


One of the Best of 2015

Coming soon, our staff curated best-of round up will be posted for library users but in the meantime, here is one of my favorite movies released in 2015 that will make my list. 

Ex Machina is one of this year’s best films. Led by strong performances by actors Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, director/writer Alex Garland’s debut doesn’t attempt to reinvent the clever, ideas-filled sci-fi movie that many have described it as being but it definitely doesn’t shy away from immersing the viewer in an original and intense examination of philosophical, scientific and moral investigations that feel both pertinent and cinematically fresh. Surely, it is a work that explores what so many science fiction films before it have tried to grapple with, the question of what makes us human in an age where artificial intelligence not only exists in the conceptual realm but in the everyday as well. What drives Ex Machina to stand out as a great film are the subtleties that the actors and the director bring to the weighty subject matter that should result in some abundant, late night conversations about the film’s themes, ambiguities and symbolism.

Top 5 Directors

Inspired by a recent filmspotting podcast (highly recommended for movie fans) episode where the two hosts asked their listeners to choose the five directors (and their films) they’d take with them to a deserted island, I thought I'd mull it over. Here’s who I would take with me, keeping in mind that this is not a list of my "favorite" directors but just those whose work I'd want access to while passing the time.

1. Wes Anderson—a great mixture of comedy and melancholia would keep my island dwelling emotional state evenly balanced.
2. Coen Brothers—the storytelling virtuoso of their genre films would fill in for an absence of books.
3. Martin Scorsese—For both the variety and quality of his oeuvre.
4. Ingmar Bergman—Bergman’s films have the excellence, the quantity and the kind of philosophical depth that would keep me ruminating on the big questions while stranded.
5. Stanley Kubrick—If he had only made Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick’s film making flair would be enough to keep my isolation bearable, but throw in The Killing, Paths of Glory, The Shining2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clock Work Orange, and Full Metal Jacket and you have more than enough masterworks to choose from. 

Honorable Mention Includes: Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Bresson and Terence Malick.

Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry for Eating the Cat

Kalamazoo is really fortunate to be home to an Alamo Drafthouse; they are one of the most prestigious theater chains in the world. As a massive film geek, I don’t spend my movie-going dollars anywhere else. One reason for this (beyond the strict no-talking, no-texting policy) is their penchant for bringing independent, foreign, and art-house films to Kalamazoo—ones that would never normally play in our mid-sized market. In fact, the Austin-based company has its very own distribution arm and, as you can imagine, they specialize in “provocative, visionary and artfully unusual films new and old from around the world” (their own words). Some of the many great movies found under the Drafthouse Films label include A Band Called Death, The Act of Killing, The Overnighters, A Field in England, and many more.

One recent favorite of theirs I saw was a creepy indie film called Spring that one promotional blurb perfectly referred to as “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft.” As a fan of both creators, this intrigued me. The story follows a young man who sets off to backpack around Europe after his mother dies and the rest of his life falls apart. In Italy, he begins a flirtation with an attractive-yet-aloof young woman, and the two spend a lot of time walking and talking around her scenic coastal village, much like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy did in Linklater’s Before Sunrise series. However, the woman is harboring a dark secret—one that evokes the primordial horror of Lovecraft tales, and one that may pose a threat to more than just their relationship. To say more would be to spoil, but I definitely recommend checking the film out if you’re looking for an unusual twist on two familiar genres. And be sure to check other Drafthouse Films, both here at KPL and at downtown’s Alamo Drafthouse location!



Fortitude is a new drama set in an isolated, northern island somewhere near the arctic. Branded as the safest city in the world, with its governor hoping to develop a high concept hotel built inside of a glacier, the citizens of Fortitude seem normal enough if you ignore the multitude of personal secrets, infidelities, emotional traumas, corruption, frozen mammoths, and you guessed it, the bizarre string of murders that are beginning to shake this once calm town's residents. For fans of dark and suspenseful shows like The Bridge and True Detective.  


Hidden Gems

Here are some selected titles that staff feel are hidden gems, secret treasures or unknown classics that you may have missed or simply never knew existed.

Before Ryan Gosling was a huge movie star and occasional internet meme, he made the quirky, small budget film Lars and the Real Girl, a tale about a socially awkward man who falls in love with…yes…a blow up doll.

Years before he struck it big with Birdman, Alejandro Innaritu directed Amores Perros, a gritty film set in Mexico City that connects several storylines and characters together ala Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia or Innaritu’s more commercially successful work Babel.

Safe is “a profoundly unsettling work from the great American director Todd Haynes, Safe functions on multiple levels: as a prescient commentary on self-help culture, as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, as a drama about class and social estrangement, and as a horror film about what you cannot see. This revelatory drama was named the best film of the 1990s in a Village Voice poll of more than fifty critics.”—The Criterion Collection

Prior to Peter Jackson’s adaptations of the Lord of the Rings books, he and a young and relatively unknown actress named Kate Winslet collaborated on Heavenly Creatures, a shocking, true crime story that took place in New Zealand in the 1950’s. Two teenage girls develop an inseparable bond and as their fantasy-fueled relationship grows increasingly lethal, their parents attempt to break them apart.

Forbidden Games is a 1952 French film that depicts the macabre yet childlike way that an orphaned girl grapples with her grief after her parents are killed by the Germans during World War II. Befriended by a young boy and taken in by his peasant family, the adults are ill equipped to sympathize with the grisly ways in which the children cope with the trauma of war.

Certified Copy might be one of the more unique and certainly beguiling films to explore the complexities and narrative like qualities of a relationship. Similar to the Richard Linklater “Before” trilogy in that these films focus on dialogue more so than plotting and action, Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami tackles questions about truth, authenticity and subjectivity both in how these ideas manifest themselves within human relationships as well as art.

Shadows was the first film from maverick American director John Cassavetes and while it doesn’t possess the richness and complexity of his later films, it marked a key moment in the history of American cinema for its low budget appearance and verite approach. Exploring interracial relationships in New York City during the Beat-era and originally scored by bassist Charles Mingus, Shadows is considered by historians as an early prototype for what came to be dubbed “independent cinema.”

Election—Alexander Payne’s debut hits all the right marks when it comes to this high school-set black comedy starring a fantastic Reese Witherspoon as the hyper-achieving foil to Matthew Broderick’s squeaky clean teacher.

Muriel—Alain Resnais, the late French master of fragmented pyscho-dramas with beguiling plot structures made his name with Hiroshima Mon Amour and Late Year at Marienbad but fans of those works should give this lesser known work the attention it deserves.

Nothing Is What It Seems

One of the most significant and original British directors of the post-war era, Nicolas Roeg has carved out a unique and influential oeuvre, making radically inventive films that advanced the grammar of cinema. Narratively complex and often puzzling films that work like mosaics, his films tend to have very powerful images and enigmatic shifts in tone that work to foster unease and uncertainty. Known for innovations in plotting, sound effects and editing, Roeg’s most well-known movies are his finest beginning in 1970 with the beguiling Performance, starring Mick Jagger. Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975), Bad Timing (1980), and Insignificance (1985) have all been deemed by critics as significant contributions to movie making for their adventurous, envelope-pushing qualities. The Criterion Collection has recently released arguably his best and most commercially successful film, the psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, a film so full of misdirection and subtle ambiguities, viewers will want to return again and again to plumb its possible meanings. The film, ostensibly about a grieving couple working through their trauma takes on a more sinister tone when viewers are confronted early on in the film with the possibility that “nothing is what it seems.” An absolute masterpiece without categorization.