Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The Loving Story is just that, a documentary tale of two people bound by an uncompromising commitment to one another, fighting against injustice and hatred. Marriage equality isn’t only a contemporary legal issue that’s being struggled over in state and federal courts today but one that goes back many years and in this particularly precedent-setting case, begins in 1958, when two Virginians married in Washington D.C., neither aware of a Virginia law that criminalized interracial marriages. Our loving couple, Mildred and Richard Loving were subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Wanting to continue to live in Virginia, the couple decided to fight this legal bigotry by challenging their convictions as well as the the very law that was designed to oppress Virginian blacks and codify social and economic segregation. Supported by two brash and youthful attorneys, the Loving’s fought their way to the United States Supreme Court and won in 1967. This is their remarkable story.
The Loving Story
The recently released documentary film Chasing Ice is the story of one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists tackling the subject of global warming by documenting the retreat and loss of glacial ice in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana due to climate change. This documentary, full of breathtaking images of both sublime beauty and environmental degradation introduces us to the passionate photographer James Balog, who with his team of scientists, techies, climbing experts and field guides set out to document the physical evidence of global warming by setting up cameras in multiple locations to film a particular landscape in order to archive the changes. The dramatic effects of global warming are clearly evident as Balog returns to each site several times a year to make sure the cameras are functioning properly and to review the effects upon the glaciers. The film highlights the emotional up’s and down’s and natural obstacles to such an endeavor but what really is the most striking feature of the film is the awe-inspiring magnificence of the arctic landscapes.
One’s take away from writer/director Sarah Polley’s brilliant, semi-autobiographical Stories We Tell may be that the film is about family dynamics and the complex secrets they often keep hidden. But what the film is really about is the way in which our lives are like stories, often interpreted and consumed differently by various actors involved within the circle of a particular narrative. The 'truth' about Sarah's origins becomes increasingly unstable as memories (some of which may be unreliable) of the past highlight the relativistic and nuanced nature of individual perspectives and experiences. Everyone's take on Sarah's mother is bit different, which is to say, she struggled to conform to any singular mold or characterization. The film works very much like Tim O’brien’s masterful fictional memoir The Things They Carried, a novel set in the Vietnam War but a book concerned primarily with the importance of storytelling as a way of understanding splintered, de-centered realities. It’s a wonderful film and one of the best of the year.
Stories We Tell
By the mid 1950’s Katharine Hepburn had solidified herself as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and so with few limitations regarding her career trajectory or concerns regarding box office success, she took on roles that were less about making money and more as vehicles to work with some of the best directors of that time. Summertime, a film that most movie fans don’t immediately recognize as one of her signature movies, is a wonderful tale of doomed romance along the Venetian canals. Directed by legendary British auteur David Lean (A Brief Encounter, Bridge On the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia), Summertime finds Hepburn in a role that has her playing an emotionally lonely yet headstrong and independent secretary, enjoying her dream vacation in Venice when romance comes her way in the form of a smooth-talking shop owner. Shot in vibrant Technicolor, Lean shows off Venice as a beautiful city full of life and history. The city becomes a character onto itself. It’s a film about living in the moment and embracing the vitality of experience.
Be sure to check out the romantic comedy Cherry, which we’ve recently acquired here at the library. The story follows a college freshman named Aaron who falls for an older woman he meets at school. Things get complicated when the woman’s 14-year-old daughter develops a crush on Aaron. Age becomes a challenging factor in both relationships, but they all manage to learn valuable life lessons before the credits roll. The movie itself is an enjoyable watch, but the real reason you’ll want to catch it is that the 2010 film was shot right here in Kalamazoo. Throughout the film you can catch glimpses of locations at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College, various downtown storefronts, and on recognizable streets like Kalamazoo Avenue and Rose Street. Although, there should have been a really awesome public library in there somewhere…
After watching the Academy Award winning film (Best Foreign Language Film) Amour, a film of tremendous emotional intensity and tenderness, I needed to view a film that took me away into a fantasy world comprised of silly hijinks, screwball comedy and that starred classic Hollywood actors. I found that film in the classic 1938 comedy, Bringing Up Baby, a hilarious romp of absurdity and folly that was the perfect antithesis to Amour’s touching but grim story of the final weeks of an elderly couple’s marriage. Both pictures represent the best and breadth of the library’s film collection, one that has a little bit of everything.
The newest film from maverick filmmaker Terrence Malick will move even the most seasoned movie-watcher with its sheer, lyrical beauty yet will likely confound and annoy those who require a clear, comprehensible and linear plot with a standard amount of dialogue. I love Malick's uncompromised films and yet To the Wonder left me scratching my head at why he's become so drawn to the removal of storytelling and dramatic complexity. It isn’t so much that there is no plot but rather that the story is so utterly stale that one may find its shallow pretenses cause to hit the ‘stop’ button before the 20 minute mark. The voiceover, a device that Malick uses in all of his pictures, is pointless prattle and does little to expand our understanding of the motivations and feelings at the core of the four primary characters, all of whom simply wander about as handsome ciphers. These inadequacies alone would sink most films but of course Malick is one of the giants of cinema and therefore is afforded a bit of leeway given his uncompromising commitment to making films without concern for audience expectations or commercial success (that I really do appreciate). I applaud his integrity while at the same time feel a bit cheated at what could have been. The wondrous imagery that Malick is known for is truly magnificent. His films have always been painterly and romantic, lush and poetic but there’s nothing of human complexity or dimension beneath the endlessly vacuous imagery of glowing sunsets, hands grazing tall grass and beautiful actors behaving foolishly. Give it a try. You may find To the Wonder pointless or transcendent or even both.
To the wonder
56 Up is the eighth and latest installment in the British documentary Up series. Began in 1964 and airing every seven years, audiences have followed a select group of seven year old children from 1964 to now with the expressed intent to examine British class structure and its power to determine one’s life. We the viewers are allowed access to the personal up’s and down’s of a participant’s life story, including a quick summation of their life as it was and as it is now. The interviews probe the typical subject matter such as married life, employment, children, health and various laments, grievances and successes. Viewers won’t be mesmerized by anything unconventional, extraordinary or surprising. Most of the children have grown up to live relatively banal, middle class lives even as they’ve likely felt a certain pressure as living subjects within an entertainment/sociological experiment.
In The Apparitionfour college kids perform an experiment trying to recreate the Charles experiment from the 1970s, only this time they want to manifest the spirit into this world. They have a figurine of Charles that they concentrate on and with the help of computers magnify their concentration from 4 to 4,000 and it works. The table shakes, the figurine is smashed, lights flash and Lydia is sucked through a wall. I thought ok the spirit is here but the movie fades out and we meet Ben, one of the original four apparently a few years/months (not sure which) later with his girlfriend, Kelly. They are house sitting for her parents in a housing development which is mostly vacant, a good setting for a spirit to haunt. Ben checks his email and has numerous messages from Patrick his old buddy from the experiment. Patrick is played by Tom Felton who was Draco in the Harry Potter series. Patrick has sent message after message increasing in urgency saying Ben is in danger. Kelly is taking a shower and we see spirit stuff. The soap goes all fungus looking and the real horror, all of Kelly’s clothes which are hanging in the closet are tied in knots. We are then treated to a lot of convincing spirit in the house sounds, they did a good job with this part. Ben finds out that Patrick has reopened the rift and a spirit wants into our world. They think they can send it back by playing the sounds from the original experiment backwards. This reminded me of my youth when they thought there were satanic messages on a vinyl record if you played it in reverse. I think the movie plot pushed the recreate experiment too far. First they recreate the 1970s, ok that’s a good premise, but then they leave it and allude to recreating the recreation and this time the spirit is unleashed, the rift was widened. It was big enough to suck Lydia through the first time and what happened to Lydia, we hear nothing more of her. Ben and Patrick set up their equipment, we see a diagram of the house and all the devices sync up, Patrick amplifies, we hear the sound track played in reverse, the spirit makes sounds, the house cracks, this is one big spirit and then nothing… I thought it was an anti-climactic ridding of the spirit. But that was because (spoiler alert) the spirit is not really gone. I liked the build-up to the spirit coming and the sound effects but one recreation was enough. Give it a watch sometime, especially at night, preferable when it is stormy and you are alone.
Wiener Dog Nationals is a cute children movie. We have a family with a mother who has died recently but not that recent, like 2 years ago. So we have a father raising 3 children; one is 18 and the other 2 are like boy age 8 and girl age 6. The boy discovers a picture of his mother as a child with a wiener dog (dachshund) and she used to race the dog and win trophies. Nowhere in this movie do we hear anyone say dachshund it is always Wiener dog, just like the title of the movie. For his birthday he wishes for a wiener dog. He names it Shelly because he got it from a shelter. He and his sister are in a fast food place and there is a girl signing up people for the Wiener dog races, what are the odds. Morgan Fairchild is a rich lady who plays dirty tricks to try and eliminate Shelly from competing in the race. She has won for the past 2 years. The movie is your typical child movie, Morgan Fairchild is shown doing nasty things and being rude so you hate her. The boy with the dog is nice and friendly with the other contestants especially a dog called handshake who can do one trick, bet you can’t guess what it is, yep Shake Hands. His owner is a girl of about 8 same age as the boy. The dad meets and falls in love with the girl (Alicia Witt) who was signing up people for the race. Shelly wins Nationals. Happiness reigns for all in the end. Two things that did bug me about this movie, when cleaning up from the birthday, the dad tosses the left over cake into a garbage bag. Who does that, you keep the cake and have more of it later. The second was more of a continuity issue. Shelly hurts her paw. They show her raising her right front paw as if it is hurt but they bandage the right rear paw. I even rewound to make sure I saw the correct paw. But hey, I wasn’t watching this for accuracy just for a good time. It’s cute, if you have children or just like these movies Check it out at KPL.
Wiener Dog Nationals