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Staff Picks: Movies

Gloria

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.


The Overnighters

The Oscar-nominated documentary The Overnighters is a deeply entralling work that focuses its sympathetic lens upon one pastor’s complicated mission to serve the needy and “broken” men of a small North Dakota boom town. Confronted with both his zealous need to serve as a Christian and a church and community increasingly frustrated and suspicious of his motivations, Pastor Jay Reinke is forced to engage the truths of his own brokenness and hypocrisy. What appears at first as an examination of the personal and social costs of the fracking industry’s impact upon Williston, North Dakota, evolves into a provocative essay on the thorny relationships between Reinke, the community, his family, and the men he seeks to serve. This is one of the best documentaries of the year and one that plumbs the tragic intricacies of American society’s two most hegemonic forces—capitalism and religion with empathy and nuance.


Life Itself

Roger Ebert was once the most recognized film critic in the United States. From the time he won a Pulitzer Prize for his criticism in 1975 through the conclusion of his successful weekly television program At the Movies (co-hosted with Gene Siskel until 1999), Ebert established himself as the nation's most powerful pundit. Famous for he and Siskel's trademarked phrase "thumbs up", Ebert past away in 2013 after multiple bouts with cancer that left him without his jaw or the ability to speak.

A brand new documentary by Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, provides an excellent survey of Ebert's professional accomplishments while also covering Ebert's colorful personal life, providing intimate details about his complicated relationship with Siskel, his years as a hard drinking journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times and his midlife marriage to Chaz Hammelsmith, who he married in 1992.  


Women's History Month Highlights

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)


Middle of Nowhere

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.


Master of Alienation

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.


A Birdman in the Hand Is Worth 4 Oscars in the Bush

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.

 


Unhappy People

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.


Begin Again

The Academy Awards are just around the corner (this Sunday the 22nd) so let's talk about the sugary Begin Again, a predictable drama soaked in pop music and stale messages about...well...beginning again when life becomes complicated. There are some great actors in this film and while they aren't capable of saving it from its conventional trappings, the sweet and uplifting tone will get you through a night when all you crave is a bit of a diversion from the act of shoveling and cold weather. The lead actress Keira Knightley has earned a nomination for her rendition of the song Lost Stars.


Wages of Fear

Arguably one of the first great films to seamlessly embody multiple categories of genres including action, drama, social criticism, and suspense, Wages of Fear was a smash hit in France in 1953 for director Henri-Georges Clouzot (the film was infamously censored by the American film industry in 1955 for its suggestive sympathies with leftist politics). Set in an impoverished oil company town in Brazil, an assortment of underemployed European and American expats lament their financial woes and lack of job opportunities at the town’s second most profitable business, the bar. When the oil company seeks out four men willing to drive two trucks filled with containers of nitroglycerin to a part of the country where an oil rig is on fire, four men with very little in common other than their poverty must put aside personal animosity, fear and pride in order to safely arrive in one piece. This is a tense work that will make your palms sweat as you root for the men to survive each obstacle they encounter, knowing that danger lurks around every pothole and pebble in the road.