Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
In an inauspicious Tokyo subway station, 85 year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono works each day to improve his craft and humbly offer his customers a dining experience that is simple yet sublime. Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells Jiro’s remarkable story. The documentary is a meditation on work and great sushi, as well as a zen koan about the unreachability of perfection and the beauty inherent in a life spent attempting to reach it. Foodie’s will love this film, but the added storyline that develops with Jiro’s two son’s, who are both sushi chef’s themselves, will appeal to all.
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - Trailer from curious on Vimeo.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Over the holiday I was able to catch up on some film titles from the past year that I had failed to see during the previous twelve months. In particular, I enjoyed two documentaries, Page One: inside the New York Times and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, that were both listed on KPL staff 2011 Best of Lists. While very different in style and content, the films relate in my opinion because the subject of each documentary seem to be, at least at some level, “in” on the project and are using the documentary format to take a position and very effectively tell the audience something about themselves. In the case of Page One, it’s the NYT convincing us that they remain relevant and the authoritative place for news in an ever splintering media landscape, and in the case of Conan O’Brien, which was filmed in the aftermath of O’Brien’s famously contentious split with NBC and Jay Leno, its O’Brien convincing us that he is an incredibly, almost compulsively, driven entertainer. Both films have compelling characters featured prominently, with Page One its NYT media and culture columnist David Carr – who, after watching this film, I think of as the Keith Richards of journalism – and with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop it has to be O’Brien himself, he is in nearly every frame of the film and working incredibly hard to entertain everyone near him during his every waking second. I’m glad that I had the time to watch both films, and I recommend using KPL staff picks, our Movies and Music pages, and KPL staff in all our locations to help keep your “to watch” lists full of great titles.
Page One: inside the New York Times
“That is the reason you go to college, not to make more money, but to gain the knowledge to make this a better world.” – Sambo Mockee
The fantastic documentary, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the spirit of the Rural Studio, tells the inspiring story of architect and teacher Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and the thought provoking work of the Rural Studio, a design/build program offered through Auburn University’s School of Architecture, which Mockbee co-founded. The Rural Studio focuses all of its projects on the citizens of Hale County Alabama, one of the poorest areas of the country and that is what makes it so utterly unique and what really makes this film so fascinating. Using recycled, found, or donated materials, the Rural Studio and it’s architects in training get a very real world, hands-on experience in creating what Mockbee referred to as an “architecture of decency”. Gifting beautiful, functional, and efficient structures to people whose day to day lives are spent in pretty shocking conditions, but whose dignity and worth as human beings is clearly respected by the students and the faculty of the Rural Studio. The program and Mockbee have become an inspiration for similar design/build experiences at other universities, and this film certainly does inspire, but it is the uniquely compassionate and socially responsible vision of Mockbee, who passed away from leukemia in 2001, that really shines and will, hopefully, reverberate far into the future.
This hilarious and ultimately heartwarming documentary tells the story of the people responsible for the "so bad it's good" film Troll 2 and what has happened to them as the low budget horror film they were involved with in 1989 slowly turned into what is affectionately known as “the worst movie ever made” - a cult favorite with maniacal fans and Rocky Horror Picture Show like midnight showing parties. Written and directed by Michael Stephenson – who actually starred in Troll 2 as a child – Best Worst Movie’s main focus is George Hardy, the father in Troll 2, who is now a well loved general dentist living a quiet and happy life in a small Alabama town. The film examines the Troll 2 phenomenon and follows George and many of the other cast members, several who are clearly not as well adjusted as George appears to be, as they hit the Troll 2 circuit, engaging with rabid fans and soaking up the weird fame that they have in this realm. The film is well made, touching, funny, and above all entertaining. Even if you have never seen Troll 2 you will be a fan after viewing this great documentary.
Best Worst Movie
As those of us who find ourselves obsessed with the television show Lost all know; the final season of the brilliant and intriguing, perhaps to the point of annoyance for the casual viewer, television show begins on Tuesday night. All of the speculation over “how will it end?” has me thinking not only about the wrapping up of LOST (Is Whitmore/Ben/Jacob good or bad, Is the island an alien life form? What do Hurley’s numbers mean?), but about the pressure to satisfy and surprise the shows fans that comes with concluding any popular television series. I am old enough to remember the end of M.A.S.H and the hubbub surrounding that shows final episode, including a run on army surplus stores for “M.A.S.H. party” supplies that has never been equaled, and who can forget how collectively let down viewers were by the final episode of Seinfeld? One of my personal favorite series endings comes from the HBO series Six Feet Under in which (spoiler alert!) the final scene shows how each of the shows characters will meet their ultimate demise. Ending a much beloved show can be tricky business, and for every great finale (see: The Sopranos, Cheers, The Fugative) there is an ill-conceived dud that tarnishes the overall assessment of some otherwise decent shows (see: Seinfeld, X-Files, St. Elsewhere). We will have to wait and see which side of this coin the LOST finale lands on.
"He was a wonderful man, a genius, a poet. I don't think anyone has come close to him as being the poet of the youth of America in the postwar period. He was to them what Shakespeare was to the Elizabethan Age." – actor-economist Ben Stein
That is what the great Ben Stein said of director, producer, and writer John Hughes who died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 59. Hughes' iconic films, including The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Uncle Buck, and many more, touched millions and helped to define suburban teen culture in the 1980's. His movies were funny and poignant and rang true, especially to those of us who happened to be living in that 1980's suburban teen culture. Their are very few people who are within ten years of my own age who when they read the name Ben Stein above didn't think - "Bueller...Bueller...Bueller".
The Breakfast Club
Philippe Petit’s incredible 1974 wire walk between the towers of the, then newly completed, World Trade Center is an act not to be repeated, not only because of the fate that befell the towers, but because I don’t believe another human being is capable of such an act of daring and grace. Mixing rare footage, interviews with Petit and his accomplices today, and staged reenactments, Man On Wire is a thrilling piece of documentary film making. The film thrills, not only because of the great footage of Petit’s incomprehensible wire walk itself, but because of the wild-eyed, madcap, bank heist like approach that the group took to pull it off. Petit and his walk is also the subject of the wonderful kids book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, but no matter how you view this event you can’t help but marvel at the artistic commitment and pure audacity of what Petit refers to as "his dream". Magnificent!
Man On Wire
If you have even a passing interest in the use of typeface, and really who doesn’t love to change the tone of their message with a carefully selected font - big shout out to Verdana!, you should make a point to checkout the fascinating 2007 documentary Helvetica. The film focuses on the typeface for which it is titled, the font celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007, and its now ubiquitous use worldwide. Major figures in the graphic design world share either their love or absolutely hate of helvetica, and the reasons behind these extreme reactions provides a launching point for examining the use of type in the modern world and the fascinating significance of that use.
The very recognizable but certainly underappreciated Richard Jenkins stars in this quiet independent film about the power of human connection. Jenkins plays widowed economics professor Walter Vale whose life has lost all resemblance of happiness or sparkle until a random encounter with two complete strangers gives him the connection to humanity that he desperately needed to jumpstart his life. The visitor, that the title refers to, turn out to be two undocumented aliens (Tarek who is Syrian and Zainab from Senegal) living illegally yet productively and peacefully in New York City. An unwarranted and random stop by the authorities sends this touching and well paced film off in an entirely new direction from where it started, but the strength of the characters and the strong performances of the cast act as ballast that keeps this very well constructed film moving along to a conclusion that stays with the viewer long after the credits role.