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Staff Picks: Movies

Beautiful and Brutal

The award-winning, revenge-filled tone poem The Revenant is a magnificently shot film that features sublime cinematography that in scene after scene, generously pays homage to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. It's also a flaccid story immersed in its endless detailing of unromanticized violence and the kind of brute survival it took to endure the unforgiving natural world of the early 19th Century West. The two-plus hour run time forces the audience to withstand the torturous story of a fur trader named Hugh Glass, who finds himself on the wrong end of a vicious grizzly bear attack after he and his fellow traders are mercilessly raided by American Indians in search of an elder's kidnapped daughter. From there, Glass' tormented body witnesses an ever increasing number of physical setbacks and emotional traumas as he plots his revenge on those who've done him harm. The haunting score of the film supplements the film's visual poetry and dreamy flashbacks which provide information regarding Glass' backstory. Prepare yourself for both the beauty and the brutality of The Revenant.


Brush Up on Your CIVIL WAR History

Look, I know you SAY you’re sick of superhero movies, but we both know that’s not true. Sure, Batman vs. Superman was lame, but that’s a DC movie and we are Marvel people. Always have been, always will be. And don’t try to tell me you’re not excited for the May 5th opening of Captain America: Civil War, because I won’t believe you. Tension has been building between Caps and Irons for a while now, and this pro- vs. anti-registration business is just the kind of hot-button political issue that strikes a nerve during a contentious election season. And hey, we’re entering Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! What’s not exciting about that? In fact, I propose a marathon of all the MCU Phase Two films just to brush up on the mythology before we see Civil War.

First, we’ll start with Iron Man 3. Remember how that was such a perfect ending to the whole solo Stark storyline? At least it seemed that way at the time because RDJ was all acting like he was going to hang up his metal suit, but unsurprisingly he just said he might be down for another one. That dude likes money.

Next we’ll watch Thor: The Dark World. Okay, not the best of the bunch, but we’re completists, so we’ll get through it. Because right after that is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and that movie is awesome. Nick Fury gets all wasted and S.H.I.E.L.D. turns out to be like 75% Hydra. That movie even temporarily breathed some life into the otherwise lame S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show.

After that, we'll move on to one of the all-time best Marvel movies: Guardians of the Galaxy. No one could have anticipated that movie would be the critical and commercial success that it is, particularly since it featured some obscure characters like a talking raccoon and a tree dude and starred the formerly schlubby guy from Parks & Rec. But somehow it all worked.

Then it’s time for Avengers: Age of Ultron. That one’s a bit overstuffed, but it gets better as it goes on, if you ignore the weird shirtless Thor cave stuff that the producers demanded be in there for MCU continuity.

You’d think Ultron would be the capper to Phase Two, but there was one more: Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. This one is a fun heist-centric actioner that could have been a trainwreck (because hey, it’s called Ant-Man). We’ll never know what the Edgar Wright version of this film would have been, but what we got was actually pretty enjoyable. Michael Douglas looks like Colonel Sanders, though.

So what do you say? We can get through all of these in about 13-and-a-half-hours and it’s the weekend…


My Favorite Films--T

As part of a series of 26 posts...

(T) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

I first came across The Treasure of the Sierra Madre from reading about some of the cinematic influences of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood. It’s a classic adventure film with dramatic depth and a great cast including a gritty, atypically inelegant Humphrey Bogart. Four desperate men hole up in the Mexican mountains hoping to strike it rich by mining for gold. The claustrophobic working and living conditions and the high stakes strain produced from constant suspicion and personal greed leads to a dramatic boiling point that will likely result in a violent resolution.  

 


Sheep Thrills

My two-year-old has very limited access to television, thanks to advice gleaned from child-rearing brain-development experts and also common sense. His world of moving pictures has mostly involved the interactive education of Sesame Street, the animated adventures of misbehaving monkey Curious George, and, thanks to his father’s love of all things Aardman, the wooly exploits of British bovid Shaun the Sheep. I grew up on Creature Comforts and Wallace and Gromit, so when it came time for selecting something short that I could enjoy as much as my child, Shaun jumped out at me.

Shaun the character was spun off of the Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. The series follows Shaun’s life on a small rural farm in Britain and his adventures with fellow sheep, a sheepdog named Bitzer, the hapless farmer, and some misfit pigs. Animated in classic Aardman stop-motion style, Shaun is a family-friendly delight.

Last year saw the feature-length adaptation Shaun the Sheep Movie hit theaters, where it enjoyed great critical success. It has since been deservedly nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. In the film, Shaun and the gang find themselves having to venture to the big city in order to rescue their missing farmer while staying out of the clutches of a villainous animal containment worker. The film is hilarious for kids and adults (as well as adults without kids); much like Pixar, Aardman is an expert at appealing to multiple generations. Check it out! It’s wool-th your time.


My Favorite Movies: A-Z

For this post, the first of 25 to follow, I will be recommending a favorite film from each letter of the alphabet. 

(A) The Assassin (2015)

The winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival's award for best director, The Assassin is a visual feast of expertly composed images, poetically rendered to evoke the immense beauty of China and its complex political history. The plot's obtuse delivery left me in a state of confusion throughout the viewing, which for some, might understandably be a deal breaker. However, fans of slowly drawn out portraits of morally conflicted, trained killers can ignore the clunker of a story line while still appreciating the magnificent imagery.


The (Fury) Road to Oscars

The 88th Academy Awards are less than a month away, so if you want to catch up on some of the nominees, the Kalamazoo Public Library can help you out! The following is a list of Oscar-nominated films that are available right now (or very soon) here at KPL:

Summer blockbuster (and, full disclosure, my favorite film of the year) Mad Max: Fury Road received ten nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Cinematography, Film Editing, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Another popular Best Picture nominee, The Martian, scored a Best Actor nod for Matt Damon, as well as nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard), Production Design, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing.

Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama Bridge of Spies was recognized for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen), Original Score (Thomas Newman), Production Design, and Sound Mixing.

The riveting thriller Sicario received nominations for Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson), Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Editing.

Sci-fi thriller Ex Machina received nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Screenplay (Alex Garland).

Three of the Best Animated Feature nominees are currently available: When Marnie Was There, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and Inside Out (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay).

Don’t miss must-see Best Documentary Feature nominees The Look of Silence and Amy.

Kenneth Branaugh’s Cinderella received a nomination for Best Costume Design.

The Hunting Ground and Fifty Shades of Grey received Best Original Song nominations.

The cumbersomely-titled The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared was nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling.

All-around juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens received five nominations including Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Film Editing, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing & Editing. The film is not available yet, but John Williams’ Oscar-nominated music is.

The nominees that are not yet available, but are expected within the month are Straight Outta Compton, Spectre, Creed, and Room. You can place a hold on these right now.

So start binging today, and be sure to keep checking our catalog for other Oscar nominated films as more of them become available. For many of the Oscar nominated films that are still in theaters, be sure to check out downtown Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse Theater, which is currently playing The Revenant (12 nominations), The Big Short (5 nominations), Carol (6 nominations), and the 2016 Oscar nominated shorts, both Live Action and Animated.


Liked That, Try This (Oscars Edition)

Liked The Big Short, try Inside Job

Liked Bridge of Spies, try The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Liked Brooklyn, try In America

Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try Bellflower

Liked The Martian, try Apollo 13

Liked The Revenant, try Jauja

Liked Room, try The Wolfpack

Liked Spotlight, try All the President’s Men

 


Film Comment Magazine Critics Poll

The editors of Film Comment Magazine have issued their 20 Best Films of 2015 (established by over 100 polled critics) in their newest issue (January/February). Some of the titles have managed to be released on DVD but most have release dates later on this year.

1. Carol
2. The Assassin
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Clouds of Sils Maria
5. Arabian Nights
6. Timbuktu
7. Spotlight
8. Phoenix
9. Inside Out
10. The Look of Silence
11. Hard to Be a God
12. Anomalisa
13. In Jackson Heights
14. Son of Saul
15. Horse Money
16. Jauja
17. Tangerine
18. Brooklyn
19. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
20. Bridge of Spies


Sicario

Denis Villenueve is a director who trades in discomfiting ambiguities and psychic dread. His films function to blur and haze, confuse and de-center the viewer’s grasp of truth and intention. Right and wrong and black and white are erased with an opaque bleakness that doesn’t make for light-hearted viewing of his films. His gripping film Prisoners grappled with the moral implications of revenge and torture. His next film, one even more vague and unsettling, was Enemy, an intense, arty take on the theme of doubling. His newest film Sicario contains the disquieting menace that courses throughout his work. With excellent performances given by Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, Sicario draws the viewer into the muddy border matrices, nihilism and violence of the drug war between Mexican cartels and the U.S. government.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Although, the new movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is pretty good, the best part about it was the music. NinaSimone was an interesting choice for music. I haven’t thought much about her in quite a while, but the movie and music brought back memories.  

I never fully understood the significance of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series in the 60s. I didn’t associate the show with the Cold War or realize what a compromise it was for an American to partner with a Russian. I get it now. The movie is not fairing so well. Its getting its share of rotten tomatoes but the Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still fun. The music makes it for me. KPL has lots of NinaSimone CDs. So watch the movie and if you enjoy the music you’ll know where to find more of it.