For fans of the Scottish musical group Belle and Sebastian, it will come as no surprise that the recently released musical God Help the Girl is a film that mirrors the vision, style and conceptual interests of the band’s singer Stuart Murdoch. Murdoch wrote the music and the script as well as directing this charming, respectable first effort. Light on the maudlin and mawkish for a musical, yet a bit heavy on the “yeah right” moments, those who fall for the modish surface of the film and who already enjoy Belle and Sebastian’s tunes will embrace the film’s strengths while likely ignoring the uninspired story that centers on the forming of a pop group.
Civil War enthusiasts will be sorely disappointed if they watch the brilliant film Sherman’s March believing that the critically acclaimed, National Film Registry inclusion is about the 19th century war and the union general’s destructive rampage of the South. Ross McElwee’s autobiographical documentaries are poignant, self-deprecating and honest examinations of his life, notably his sometimes troubled relationship with family members, women and the South (he was born in Charlotte, NC). Noted for the humor and candor that he brings to his one-man, low production films about his angst-filled life, McElwee’s significant works are collected in The Ross McElwee DVD Collection. These are personal works that meditate on existential and universal themes: death, birth, love and family.
After a recent binge-watching of the fantastic BBC series Call the Midwife, I decided to explore other British films that were made or set in the post-war era, focusing my interest upon the 1950’s and early 60's, a time when England faced significant social and economic challenges. Many of these films depict the private trials of characters confronted by rigid class divisions within British society as well as the social and personal costs of having to rebuild after the war ended.
The Browning Version
The Horse’s Mouth—Before he played Obi-Wan in Star Wars, British actor Alec Guinness played a highly dedicated painter of loose moral fiber in this 1958 comedic romp.
The Deep Blue Sea—Terrence Davies’ most recent film is a tender, wonderfully acted and beautiful evocation of a married woman’s love for another man and the troublesome conflict between adhering to social norms or following one’s heart (see also: A Brief Encounter).
The Long Day Closes—This quintessential Terrence Davies film that put him on the cinematic map, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young man’s difficult and complicated engagement with adolescence. Gorgeously shot, edited and scored, this is Davies dreamy evocation of memory and nostalgia even when it delves deep into the sorrows of growing up during difficult times.
Of Time and the City
This Happy Breed
This Sporting Life
The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner—A film about an angry young man’s struggle against social norms that tangentially raises critical questions about the legitimacy of authoritarian institutions that mediate relations between the haves and have not’s.
The Hour—Only two seasons long but a great BBC series that like Mad Men, depicts the emergence of an industry (television journalism) as it struggles to develop amid the ever present social anxiety and fear of Eastern Bloc communism. Loads of intrigue and plot twists!
I like rapture movies. Typically they spend the first hour letting you get to know the characters, giving you insight into the people’s lives so when the rapture comes you pretty much know who will be raptured and go up to heaven because they been good and who will remain on earth denied access to eternal life. They then spend 30 minutes showing people gone, typically just their clothes remain and how the people left are dealing with it.
The remaining is different it gives you 15 minutes to meet some people, it actually begins with a wedding and then boom the rapture happens. People just drop over dead, but in this movie the physical body is still here and they have these cloudy glazed over eyes, which gives it a creepy feel. Their souls have been released. The rest of the movie deals with the demons that come to torture those who are remaining. This is deemed a rapture/horror type movie and it lives up to its name. The message for those who remain is that you have to actually believe not just make a show of being religious. They have people left who went to church regularly and they even have a pastor, who was just going through the paces, not actually believing. For the next hour the demons attack the people that remain. Then some people start believing and they still die but they get to go to heaven. Check it out at KPL.
We are always pleased at KPL to include in our collections the work of local authors and artists. A recent addition is Becoming Made: The Artist and a Japanese Woodblock Print, a documentary film by local artist—and now filmmaker—Mary Brodbeck. This short but jam-packed film follows the creation of a Japanese woodblock print from start to finish, complete with information about the technique, its history, and Brodbeck’s personal journey toward working in this medium. We learn from Brodbeck’s own Japanese teacher; we are enlightened by interviews with other woodblock artists; we are even inspired by the lyrical thoughts of poet/philosopher Mark Nepo on the idea of slowing down…something that clearly became part of the artistic process for Brodbeck in mastering this technique. And the inspiration she takes from her own personal experiences living near the Great Lakes makes her work particularly appealing to those of us who share that love.
Becoming Made has had several public screenings in Kalamazoo recently. If you had the opportunity to see it already, I encourage you to check out a copy at KPL and watch it again. You’re bound to catch something you didn’t see or hear the first time.
And if you haven’t seen it yet but you have even a passing interest in art, filmmaking, and/or personal transformation and spirituality, I promise there’s something in this film for you.
March was a decent month for film viewing as I've finally gotten around to seeing some high quality documentaries like The Pleasures of Being Out of Step. Here are some other highlights for your consideration.
10. Fox Catcher
9. Top Five
8. Force Majeure
7. Boy Meets Girl
6. The Overnighters
5. Life Itself
4. Days of Being Wild
3. The Internet's Own Boy
2. The Soft Skin
1. A Summer's Tale (Eric Rohmer may not be as well known as his French New Wave compatriots Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut but this late film (1996), finally released in the United States, proved his knack for chatty characters on scenic locales could still elicit charming insights about youthful romance and relationships thirty years after his peak.
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 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.
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.
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)