Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The Criterion Collection has a wonderful page on their website that catalogs the 10 favorite Criterion releases from a wide assortment of actors, musicians, directors, writers and other arty types. I always find these selections a good place to start my search for the unseen and unknown. If I were asked to list my ten favorite films from their collection, I’d start with the following:
1. Harold and Maude
2. Hiroshima Mon Amour
3. Au Hasard Balthazar
4. The 400 Blows
5. The Royal Tenenbaums
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc
8. Late Spring
9. Pierrot Le Fou
10. In the Mood for Love
Whether or not you count yourself among the many that study and delight in the works of Shakespeare, you might find that Joss Whedon’s recent interpretation of Much Ado about Nothing is well worth a watch. While the cast speaks in Shakespearean tongue, Whedon and his cast convincingly tell this story as a modern one still worth our attention.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white. The contemporary setting (Whedon’s family home) and the choice of real-life clothing rather than period costuming support a phenomenal cast who deliver the lines in the cadences of contemporary speech, making the story feel fresh, the plot devices less archaic.
I was particularly riveted by Amy Acker’s portrayal of the smart, sharp-tongued Beatrice, who is moved to moral outrage at her cousin Hero’s undeserved disgrace at the wedding altar, displaying what would have been thought of in Shakespearean times as more “manliness” than any of the men who stood by instead of defending Hero’s honor. Her delivery of the famous “O that I were a man” speech gave me chills as she exclaims her frustration at her powerlessness as a woman of her time and her fury that she “cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.” Her performance is done with such conviction, she seems anything but powerless; if anything, she seems heroic (no word play intended). Ultimately, of course, Beatrice embraces the man she’d so adamantly mocked before, having challenged him to become a man worthy of her.
While the story is rife with drama, deceit, and what passes for romance, there’s plenty of physical humor, with Benedick rolling in the grass outside the windows and Beatrice hiding in the kitchen to overhear conversations undetected, and comedic relief in the delightfully self-important security guards: bumbling tough guys whose swagger is intentionally and plainly laughable.
Thanks to one director's interpretation and a talented cast, I've never enjoyed a Shakespearean tale as much as I did this movie. Perhaps you will, too.
Much ado about nothing
One of the things I love about Kalamazoo is the Kalamazoo Film Society. Every month for the past 25 years, this great organization has brought a film to Kalamazoo that would otherwise not have been shown locally. The Society recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with two classic films: Federico Fellini's Amarcord, and Ingmar Bergman's Wild strawberries. Those screenings, earlier this month, were the last at the KFS's long-time home, WMU's Little Theatre. Due to the switch to digital projection, and the lack of the necessary equipment at the Little Theatre, the KFS has entered into a partnership with the Alamo Drafthouse, and will continue bringing great movies to Kalamazoo.
One of the things I love about the Kalamazoo Public Library is that we seem to get everything the KFS shows, allowing me to catch up on anything I missed on the big screen. If you haven't seen every single movie they've brought to town over the years, you can find a list of what they've shown that we've got, which at 196 items as of this writing, covers over 16 years.
As rabid a film watcher as I am, time restrictions will forever thwart my capacity to plow through KPL’s stellar movie collection but here is an abbreviated list of some of my favorite films from KPL’s collection, watched over the past year. While we add new releases each week, don’t forget about the diversified depth of our collection. We can’t purchase every movie that is requested or inquired about but we can work toward the goal of having most titles for most of our patrons, most of the time.
Upstream Color: With the exception of the increasingly abstract, fragmented and non-linear narratives of Terrence Malick, there have been few notable American films over the past decade or so that have attempted to remake the kind of Eurocentric, anti-classical/realist/romantic films of the 1960’s and 70’s (think: Godard, Bresson, Tarr, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Warhol, Antonioni). With Upstream Color, a sort of Hiroshima Mon Amour for our contemporary times, one hopes that young filmmakers will continue to take the value of abstraction seriously, reimagining it in new and thoughtful ways.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A film that came out (pun intended) way ahead of its time. It’s kind of an absurdist musical that is in-your-face bonkers, but bonkers in the most vital, transgressive and beautifully rebellious way. A postmodern Hair.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a great performance as an unraveled mess of a person that attempts to transition from a life of boredom and narcissism toward a more complete, self-aware state where the adjective ‘young’ can finally wither away.
Sullivan’s Travels: I checked this film out because the great American director Preston Sturges’ name kept popping up in literature on director/writer Wes Anderson (a favorite of mine). This well-written and acted screwball comedy hits the mark and lives up to its acclaim as one of the 1940’s best films.
My Dinner with Andre: A film like few others--this conventions-busting mixture of fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and improvised riffing will either bore you into slumber or thrill you with its originality. We almost forget, due to the strong writing, that the great French autuer Louis Malle was its director.
Insignificance: I’m still not sure I ‘get’ this peculiar film but it was certainly compelling, the way in which a film can unfold as both an irritant and a puzzling enigma.
Hiroshima Mon Amour: Before I saw this Alain Resnais masterpiece about memory, love and loss, I considered Harold and Maude my favorite film. Now it’s number two.
12 Angry Men: Watch this fictional, court room drama and then the documentary The Central Park Five. The very notion of facts, evidence, justice and human objectivity are brilliantly rendered as a hollow collection of outdated concepts with tragic application.
Hunger: Not to be mistaken with Steve McQueen’s first film about the imprisonment of IRA soldiers of the same name but rather the nimble and haunting adaptation of the classic, existential novella by Danish writer Knut Hamsun.
Summer with Monika: Arguably, my favorite film of Bergman’s but nowhere near his best. That distinction belongs to his magnum opus Scenes from a Marriage, a film that should only be approached by the single and the happily married couple.
Rules of the Game: My goal for movie watching this year was to view a handful of those classics considered important to the historical development of the art form according to the Sight and Sound Magazine’s list of 250 Greatest Films; a list created every ten years by an esteemed cadre of critics. Renoir’s masterpiece (rated at No. 4) is there for a reason and its influence can be seen in almost every film made since 1939 that skewers the vacuity of the rich and clueless.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil: Made by maverick film essayist Chris Marker, these two films are quite distinct from one another in both content and style. Both represent the best in avant-garde, envelope-pushing cinema that emerged parallel with the various manifestations of the European New Wave movement.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: This 70’s cult classic by Peter Weir still holds up as a truly original film that tackles the subject of loss, regret and repressed longing, all of which are tied to a mystery that leaves an Australian women’s school in shock and confusion.
Other notable films: L’ Avventura, Stroszek, Bringing Up Baby, Amarcord, The Killing, Neighboring Sounds, Damnation, The Lives of Others, Magnificent Ambersons, Harvey, Pat and Mike, The Third Man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Searchers, Elevator to the Gallows, As I Lay Dying, Cleo from 5 to 7, Frances Ha, The Silence, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blast of Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Argo, Shallow Grave, Band of Outsiders, Fanny and Alexander, Mud, Harry and Tonto, Chasing Ice, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
The great movie directors have always shown an interest in exploring the subject of growing up and the themes of adolescent awakening, rites of passage and the sometimes complex depiction of individuals straddling both adulthood and childhood. As many different kinds of filmmakers as there are, so to have these kinds of movies been varied, both in terms of genre, point of view and style. Childhood it would appear from some of the beloved films that have been inspired by the subject, is messy, complicated and rendered as a darn right miserable experience.
Youth’s opposite condition, the aging process and growing old has also been explored with both tenderness and horror. Sometimes depicted with gritty realism, other times with romantic sentimentality, many of these films examine the way that the elderly either flourish by growing open to new and different ideas about what it means to live or in some cases, investigate the many difficulties that the elderly are confronted with. Here is a brief list of some of the great films that tackle the subject of both youth and the elderly with intelligence, artfulness and humanity.
Harry and Tonto
Harold and Maude
Away from Her
On Golden Pond
The Up Series
The Straight Story
Murmur of the Heart
My Life as a Dog
Mon Oncle Antoine
Stand by Me
Kid with a Bike
Spirit of the Beehive
The Ice Storm
Harry and Tonto
Sleepwalk with me is about a comedian who has REM disorder disease. Matt is a comedian who is currently working as a bartender and Abby is his girlfriend. They go to his sister’s engagement party and his parents and friends are putting pressure on him to get married. His sister had been seeing her guy for only two and half hears while Matt has been with Abby for eight years His girlfriend is great, can sing, people love her. I think one of the telling lines is when Matt tells his sister everyone thinks Abby is amazing; mom and dad think she is amazing, our friends think she is amazing. I think everyone thinks the best thing about my life is my girlfriend. Matt is not ready for marriage and the pressure causes him to sleepwalk. At his parent’s house during a sleep walking episode he thinks the hamper is a jackal and he is kicking it. Matt gets an agent and she sends him on some comedy gigs. They are scattered about the east coast and involve a lot of driving and time away from home. He becomes exhausted and the sleep walking episodes get worse. His comedy, however, gets better. At one comedy club a veteran comedian talks with him off stage and Matt makes a joke about marriage. The veteran says that’s funny you should use it in your show. Matt’s comedy gets funnier as he jokes with the audience about marriage, making fun of it. One night Abby comes home at 4 am very drunk and starts to pack a suitcase, Matt wants her to stay and agrees to get married in the summer. As we watch Abby plan for the wedding and Matt touring and doing his comedy act we see his sleepwalking progress until finally he thinks a missile is coming at him (signifying the upcoming wedding) and he jumps out of a second story window. This is a deadpan humor type of story; the most humorous parts are his sleepwalking dreams. It’s a real type of story, real issues, real struggles, real relationship problems, with comedy sprinkled in especially in the sleepwalking dreams.
Sleepwalk with Me
After watching the Academy Award winning film (Best Foreign Language Film) Amour, a film of tremendous emotional intensity and tenderness, I needed to view a film that took me away into a fantasy world comprised of silly hijinks, screwball comedy and that starred classic Hollywood actors. I found that film in the classic 1938 comedy, Bringing Up Baby, a hilarious romp of absurdity and folly that was the perfect antithesis to Amour’s touching but grim story of the final weeks of an elderly couple’s marriage. Both pictures represent the best and breadth of the library’s film collection, one that has a little bit of everything.
Wiener Dog Nationals is a cute children movie. We have a family with a mother who has died recently but not that recent, like 2 years ago. So we have a father raising 3 children; one is 18 and the other 2 are like boy age 8 and girl age 6. The boy discovers a picture of his mother as a child with a wiener dog (dachshund) and she used to race the dog and win trophies. Nowhere in this movie do we hear anyone say dachshund it is always Wiener dog, just like the title of the movie. For his birthday he wishes for a wiener dog. He names it Shelly because he got it from a shelter. He and his sister are in a fast food place and there is a girl signing up people for the Wiener dog races, what are the odds. Morgan Fairchild is a rich lady who plays dirty tricks to try and eliminate Shelly from competing in the race. She has won for the past 2 years. The movie is your typical child movie, Morgan Fairchild is shown doing nasty things and being rude so you hate her. The boy with the dog is nice and friendly with the other contestants especially a dog called handshake who can do one trick, bet you can’t guess what it is, yep Shake Hands. His owner is a girl of about 8 same age as the boy. The dad meets and falls in love with the girl (Alicia Witt) who was signing up people for the race. Shelly wins Nationals. Happiness reigns for all in the end. Two things that did bug me about this movie, when cleaning up from the birthday, the dad tosses the left over cake into a garbage bag. Who does that, you keep the cake and have more of it later. The second was more of a continuity issue. Shelly hurts her paw. They show her raising her right front paw as if it is hurt but they bandage the right rear paw. I even rewound to make sure I saw the correct paw. But hey, I wasn’t watching this for accuracy just for a good time. It’s cute, if you have children or just like these movies Check it out at KPL.
Wiener Dog Nationals
Famously shy and reclusive writer/director Terrence Malick burst into the spotlight with his extraordinary debut Badlands(1973), a classic of American filmmaking starring a young Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. The library has recently picked up the expanded and refurbished Criterion Collection edition which features recollections from the two actors and the art director. Fans of Malick’s impressionistic and painterly films (The Thin Red Line, Tree of Life, Days of Heaven, The New World) will certainly want to see this version in all of its restored vibrancy. After watching this amazing film, loosely based on the Charles Starkweather murders of the late 1950’s, I’ve attempted to come up with a short list of significant directorial debut films that we currently have in our collection.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
The Night of the Hunter
A Bout De Souffle (Breathless)
Knife in the Water
Killer of Sheep
The 400 Blows
The Trouble with the Curve is about an aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout, Clint Eastwood, who uses his experience and gut to pick a player vs. the modern way with computers. Clint Eastwood is a cantankerous man who loves baseball, misses his dead wife and has a love but leave me alone relationship with his daughter, Amy Adams. They convey all this to us in the first few minutes, by showing Clint Eastwood home alone, stumbling into a coffee table and kicking it out of the way and, my favorite, getting a can of spam and eating directly out of the can. (Side note, shortly after seeing this I bought a can of spam. I did not eat it directly out of the can mainly, because my wife is still alive and would not let me, but I did dump it out on to a plate and cut off a hunk and ate it raw, after first verifying that it is fully cooked.)
Philip is one of the new upcoming modern computer wise scouts with ambition and is trying to push Clint Eastwood out of the way. The movie centers around the scouting of a likely looking baseball player in North Carolina; do the Braves sign him, do the Red Socks, is he a good pick? OK, so now let’s add in some other things. Clint Eastwood is losing is eyesight, Amy Adams is his lawyer daughter and lets spice it up, Justin Timberlake is a scout for the Red Socks and likes Amy Adams.
You do not have to know about baseball to like this movie but if you do it probably enhances it for you. Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake have drinking contest about past players and infamous plays. Personally, I did not know who or what they were talking about but still enjoyed their competition, drink if you do not know. I wasn’t drinking Justin and Amy were.
The movie gets its name from a type of pitch, The Curve, they also call it the change up unless I got that confused with one of those other pitches. Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood see Bo Gentry as having a major flaw in that he cannot hit a curve ball, hence the title of the movie. They talk about Bo hitching and his hand drifting. I have no idea what that means but you do not have to, Clint Eastwood knows and it is this personal seeing with his own eyes, hearing the clink of the bat that makes him a better scout than the computer. There was one part of the movie that I can relate to on a personal level, there is a batter who is up just before Bo Gentry and Gentry says get a hit so he, Gentry, can get up to hit. This poor little scrawny, glasses wearing guy is now praying to God to get him on base. He gets hit with the ball and gets to walk to his base. On his way he is saying to God, perhaps you misinterpreted my request. This part of the movie, while not in any way the major thrust of the movie, hit home for me. How many times was I up to bat and said the same prayer and sadly it was in Softball (which for those who do not know, is a bigger ball and as its name implies softer). You rarely get to take your base for getting hit by a softball. My prayer was broader than this guy’s, he wanted to get on base thus preserving Gentry’s ups. My prayer was just let me hit it, I did not care where it went just let me hit it.
Clint Eastwood is struggling to hang on to being useful, more than that, to being independent. He is getting older, computers are encroaching in on him, his eyesight is failing. Amy Adams sacrifices her promotion, her boyfriend, in order to be with her dad and help him. Ok so did you get the gist of this movie, it involves baseball but it is more than a movie about baseball, it is a movie about family love, old age, scum who try to push you out of the way and about what is really important in life. And hey if that is not enough for you, then watch Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams both are cute as a button.
The Trouble with the Curve