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Staff Picks: Movies

Johnny Guitar...Not Really About a Guitar

Cult writer/director Nicholas Ray made his legendary mark with his post-WWII output, including classic gems like They Live By Night (1949) Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Bigger than Life (1956). Ray’s indelible take on the Western genre was unique and altogether misunderstood during its time. Much of the heavy subtext of the film was either ignored or quickly dismissed by critics who thought Ray’s film was intended to be a standard, cliché-filled Western with easily consumable elements. Instead, Ray’s Johnny Guitar functions as a subtle allegory indicting the anti-communist, witch hunts that were taking place during the time. Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden give great performances as the misunderstood outsiders who clash with the local townspeople over real and perceived injustices.

My Favorite Film of 2014...So Far

Every year there is at least one movie that stands out among the rest, one that possesses the entire creative package and that works substantively on a variety of levels, including emotional, intellectual and visual. Last year, it was the film The Great Beauty that blew me away. This year’s pick is the Polish language film Ida, a masterful work of direction, acting, writing, and cinematography (you won’t find a more beautifully lit and framed film). It’s a film that seamlessly weaves together the residue of historical tragedy into the contemporary lives of its two main protagonists, echoing the truism that to a certain extent, societies and individuals are held hostage by their ever present pasts. And for the 18 year-old Anna (an orphan who grew up in a convent), history will reveal itself in the form of an Aunt Wanda, a woman she was told to meet prior to taking her vows. Anna quickly discovers that her birth name was Ida and that she is Jewish. Wanda is a bitter, hard drinking, state judge whose disenchanted life is filled with lost faith (both in religion and Communism), grief, and the embrace of the kinds of materialist vices unknown to her pious niece. Plotted along a linear path that takes the form of an unfolding road trip, Ida and Wanda’s investigation into the death of their family members forces each woman to recognize internal contradictions about themselves (Wanda’s past may also include her complicity in wide spread death and imprisonment) as well as to shine a light on Poland’s conflicted history, where religious identity, communism, and the Holocaust intersect. Subtle in its storytelling, tender and humane in showing of richly complex characters, classical in its framing of images, Ida is a flawless film that will leave you mesmerized and wondering as to Ida's future.

Something, Something, DANGER ZONE!!!

If you’re not yet a fan of the TV-MA hijinks of FX’s animated spy comedy Archer, then now is the time to get recruited: KPL has just acquired all four seasons of the series that are currently available on DVD. The show follows the misadventures of the titular character, Sterling Archer, who works as a spy for an agency called ISIS. He’s handsome, charismatic, dangerous, and skilled at his job—but he’s also egotistical, crude, laden with vices, and prone to causing as much trouble as he prevents. He’s like a more cartoonish version of James Bond—literally. His cohorts in espionage are quite the characters themselves: his boozy mother is also his overbearing boss; the number two field agent is also his femme fatale ex-girlfriend; the research scientist may be a clone straight out of criminal Nazi war experiments; and the eccentric human resource director has a penchant for dolphin puppets, drift car racing, and bare-knuckle brawling.

Born from the brain of Adam Reed (who also helmed a short-lived and little-seen gem for Adult Swim called Frisky Dingo—seek it out!), Archer has one of the most talented voice casts ever assembled, including the ubiquitous H. Jon Benjamin, the hilarious Aisha Tyler, Arrested Development’s priceless Jessica Walter & Judy Greer, SNL’s Chris Parnell, and the unparalleled Amber Nash. The show is packed with running gags and catchphrases galore, so slip on a Tactleneck, wash up those man-hands, and enter the Danger Zone: If quoting Archer doesn’t make you a hit at your next eeeeeeeelegant dinnah paaaahty, then at the very least you’ll understand all of the references that just confounded you.


Archer, seasons 1-4

Let's Pretend It's Summer

If you're anything like me, this weather has you daydreaming about sunny days and summer vacation--making it the perfect time to watch summer-themed movies while wrapped up in a warm blanket on the couch.  One of my favorite summer movies, The Sandlot, a coming-of-age story about a group of neighborhood kids who spend the summer of '62 playing baseball, always makes me think of a time when summer vacation felt like FOREVER.  We don't have The Sandlot in our collection (it is available to resident borrowers through MeLCat) but we do have another summertime movie that gives me that same sense of nostalgia: Stand by Me.  Though a bit darker than The Sandlot, this Stephen King classic definitely evokes a summery mood and would be a perfect fix for those winter doldrums.   

Here are a few other summery suggestions:

 Moonrise Kingdom

 Wet Hot American Summer



 Dirty Dancing


Stand By Me

Hey, I Know That Place

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…




HOME is a different type of movie, maybe because it is French. The movie starts out by trying to show how this family is a nice family unit, brother gets along with sisters, everybody is happy. They happen to live next to a section of highway that was never opened. They live the idyllic life or do they? Maybe they live this idyllic life because there are no obstacles. When they open up the highway and hundreds of cars are going past their home, their life crumbles. The oldest daughter likes to sunbathe and when the highway opens up, truckers honk their horns and cars beep. One day the family notices the daughter is gone. No Note, No Message. Nothing. Do they panic, do they call the police, do they think she was abducted, NO. They think oh well, she was probably picked up and moved on. Maybe it's because they are French but to me, if this was a real idyllic life, the daughter would not have taken flight without notice. The family then tries to continue to live next to the highway. Next to it mind you, not near. They are smack dab against the guard rails. They do not even have an access to their house. They have to park on the other side of the highway and try and get across when the traffic is light or go a mile up and cross through the water drain that runs under the highway. When the constant noise gets to them, they wall up the home with cinder blocks and noise deadening material. Of course then they have no ventilation nor sunlight and that brings it own set of problems. I'm sure this movie is fraught with hidden meanings and undertones that can be studied at length in some college classroom. To me it was sad and frustrating. I kept urging them to move, or get a lawyer or something but no they walled up the home with cinder blocks.



Sun Soaked Guilty Pleasure

As an avid reader of comic books, I would often stumble upon an ad for the television show Burn Notice. The ad reminded me of an awful USA Network television show from the 90’s called Silk Stalkings, so I never bothered to watch. It wasn’t until I was home sick channel surfing did I discover the greatness of Burn Notice. Creator Matt Nix has developed a show that pays homage to some great TV and movies. This show has successfully combined the jack-of-all-trades archetype of MacGyver, the ex-spy vibe of the Bourne movies, the exotic locale of Miami Vice, and the delightful campiness of CHiPs. Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) has just been blacklisted, or burned, from the spy business and dumped in his hometown of Miami. While investigating into who burned him, he passes the time helping out people in need with his ex-IRA girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Navy SEAL buddy, Sam (Bruce Campbell). This show is for fans of TV series that like to keep you on the edge, never quite revealing who is behind the sinister plot until the bitter end. After watching all five seasons I understood why the show is advertised in comic books, it is pure, unadulterated escapism.


Burn Notice

Who's your hero?

You never know what you’ll find at KPL (unless you look in our catalog  or browse the New Items).  The other day I was browsing the action movies when I happened upon The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice. I was so excited at the thought of a librarian as an action hero that I checked it out and brought it home. Once there, I looked more closely, and discovered that it is the third in the series. The series, which starts with The Librarian: Quest for the spear, and continues with The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s mines, stars Noah Wyle in quite a departure from his role on ER. (The first movie also has Bob Newhart’s first ever action sequence.)

It is a facet of my personality that I much prefer to start a series at the beginning. Quest for the spear was checked out, and the only available copy of Return to King Solomon’s mines was at a branch I wasn’t planning on visiting immediately, so I placed holds on both of them and they arrived shortly for pickup. Hooray!

Watching these movies was a blast. They also got me thinking about librarians as heroes. Here at KPL we can help you with research for a class assignment, find you diagrams that will help you repair your own car, and make suggestions for books to read for pleasure. We bring you exciting programs for children, tweens, teens, and adults; offer resources for genealogy as well as legal research. We do this all on a shrinking budget. I work with some amazing people who provide fantastic services.

So stop in and meet some of our hero librarians and other staff. We’ll save you from rainy-summer-day doldrums with books, movies, music and magazines.

(PS: One line review: I laughed so hard that I drooled on myself.)


The librarian: quest for the spear 

free college education on every subject

Free college education...that's exactly what these Great Courses DVDs are. 

Our library has about 25 of these; type in "great courses" as a "series" search to find them all. To get the many, many more that are out there, get them through MelCat with your KPL card! That's how I get most of mine. Again, type "great courses" as a "series title" search. Or you could ask us to buy one.

They also come in audiobook format (CD and cassette), for listening in your car or on your ipod. I cannot express how happy I am that these exist, and that libraries like ours have them. Any person with a library card can really know a lot about a lot of different subjects, in much less time and effort than ever. Carnegie, the great philanthropist, thought of libraries as great equalizers, places where poor immigrants could "catch up." Imagine what he would think of these! The old idea of the "renaissance man" is in some ways more real. These are taught by world renown professors, exciting, understandable. Older people love watching these to learn new things, keep their mind sharp, and brush up on things. Pre-college students love watching them to get a head start on everybody else. I wish I knew about these when I was younger!

Free college education (without the degree of course) is catching on more and more. Universities like Yale and MIT have posted several of their courses online, for free. Academic Earth is the Hulu for such video lectures.


Great Courses

Movie Guides

One of the most frequently asked questions that the Audiovisual Department receives is "what do you have that is good"? Since everyone's taste is a little bit different, we encourage patrons to let us know what film genres they enjoy most and make suggestions accordingly. We also refer patrons to helpful online resources that compile movie ratings and reviews. For current movie reviews, I like and Metacritic and for the classics and critically acclaimed, check out the 1000 Best Films list as compiled by the New York Times.


Koko A Talking Gorilla