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.
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.
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
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:
Wet Hot American Summer
Stand By Me