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Staff Picks: Movies

Up and Coming Directors

While baby boomer and Generation X directors like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and a slew of others are still making interesting and entertaining films, a new generation of young directors is making their mark with provocative, thoughtful contributions. Here’s a list of some up and coming creatives looking to challenge the old masters with thoughtful, provocative work.

Jeff Nichols—Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special
Rian Johnson—Brick, Looper, Star Wars VIII 
Alex Garland—Ex Machina 
Dee Rees—Pariah
Denis Villeneuve—Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario
Alex Ross-Perry—The Color Wheel, Listen Up Phillip, Queen of Earth
Ryan Coogler—Fruitvale Station, Creed
Kelly Reichardt—Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy, Meeks Cut Off, Night Moves
Ava DuVernay—I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma
Andrew Bujalski—Computer Chess
Sarah Polley—The Stories We Tell, Away from Her, Take This Waltz


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…


A Different Kind of Movie

Crumbs is different kind of movie that will be ingrained in your head for a long time. It is a mind tripping movie, if you are into that this is a good movie for you. It takes place in the future after earth has been at war. It has spectacular post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes. It starts out with us seeing this little guy (Gagano) rummaging through things and finding a small artificial Christmas tree. While putting this treasure away he sees a figure in a uniform with a Nazi swastika on his arm, a helmet on his head and Mickey Mouse ears. Gagano is afraid and runs home to his abandoned bowling alley where a woman awaits him called Birdy. That night the bowling alley for some reason turns on and a bowling ball is returned through the chute. Gagano thinks that the space ship that is hovering above in the sky is starting up and causing magnetic disturbances so he first prays to the shrine they have built honoring Michael Jordan and then off he goes to find the witch. The witch tells him to follow the train tracks and look for Santa Clause, he pays her with a Michael Jackson vinyl record. They do some of that what is valuable now, after the war, in the future stuff. There is a scene where a Teenage Ninja Turtle plastic figurine is bartered over. Gagano follows the tracks, meets interesting people and sees interesting things. He eventually finds Santa Clause. You will have to watch it for yourself to see what happens. Here is a hint, Santa is not a jovial round old man with a beard, and Gagano wears a Super Man outfit. The movie is 68 minutes and well worth it. You should also watch the extras, they have some odd stories also. A gang approached the crew when they were entering an abandoned park and demanded money. The narrator says “They had guns, we had money, we gave them our money” Check it out at KPL


My Favorite Films--J

(J) La Jetee

It’s less than 30 minutes long and comprised of still photographs, and yet Chris Marker’s 1963 La Jetee is an oddly moving work about the power of memory that continues to beguile audiences. Marker himself was an aloof and enigmatic character (his name being a pseudonym) whose work today is largely unknown. The film’s plot is of a man sent back in time to ostensibly thwart the causes of a war that has killed millions of people and left survivors to live underground. The British director Terry Gilliam was so fancied by Marker’s film that he made 12 Monkeys, a movie with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt that expanded upon the original's austere plot by fleshing out a more substantive science fiction thriller full of twists and turns.


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

 


The Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

Year-end film lists are always difficult to make in a timely fashion for those of us who don’t live in a large city. A sizeable chunk of the movies that compete for awards tend to be released in only a handful of markets late in the year so that they can capitalize on nominations and guild recognitions; most of us won’t have the opportunity to catch them at our local Alamo Drafthouse until January or February. It is with this caveat that I recap my early best-of list, acknowledging that many of the season’s big contenders have yet to be screened, and others have not yet hit DVD.

Available now:

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller’s masterpiece of dystopian demolition is the most exciting, progressive, and visually-stunning blockbuster in recent memory. I’m as surprised as you are.

It Follows – This slow-burn, instant-classic horror film somehow manages to make you both claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.

Inside Out  – The folks at Pixar prove their genius once again with this profound exploration of the emotions of a young girl struggling with the challenges of growing up.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – This eye-opening documentary reveals the dark, tragic truth behind L. Ron Hubbard’s institutional legacy of tax evasion, blackmail, manipulation, and physical & emotional cruelty.

The Hunting Ground – Anyone who has a child in college needs to see this disturbing documentary about the legacy of sexual abuse that takes place on campuses across the country—and the shocking lengths to which universities will go to cover it all up.

What We Do in the Shadows – This hilarious vampire mockumentary from one-half of Flight of the Conchords rivals any of Christopher Guest’s improvised comedies.

Ex-Machina – This dark sci-fi film about artificial intelligence features stellar performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellen shines as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes who’s struggling to solve one final case despite dealing with increased memory loss.

Coming soon:

The Look of Silence – This must-see companion piece to the 2013 documentary The Act of Killing explores the Indonesian genocide from the point of view of the victims who still live under the regime that murdered their friends and family.

The Martian Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars and we’re all the better for it.

SicarioEmily Blunt is terrific as a tactical expert who gets trapped in the dark, seedy political underbelly of the war on drugs. The film contains some of the most breath-taking scenes of suspense put on screen this year.

99 Homes Michael Shannon chews the scenery as a real estate operative who evicts people from their homes in this thrilling exploration of the darkest side of the housing crisis. 

Other films I enjoyed this year that aren’t available yet include Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, Creed, Room, and a little can-do picture called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Check them out in theaters or look for them on DVD in the next few months. I’ll be sure to give you a final top ten list right around Oscar time, as that’s when I’ve usually had a chance to see many more contenders.


2015 National Film Registry

Earlier this week, the Library of Congress announced the 25 films selected for this year's National Film Registry. “Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically’ significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board and Library film staff, as well as considering thousands of public nominations.”

Here are the 2015 selections:

Being There (1979)
Black and Tan (1929)
Dracula (Spanish language version) (1931)
Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975)
Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)
A Fool There Was (1915)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Humoresque (1920)
Imitation of Life (1959)
The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)
John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
The Old Mill (1937)
Our Daily Bread (1934)
Portrait of Jason (1967)
Seconds (1966)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Sink or Swim (1990)
The Story of Menstruation (1946)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
Top Gun (1986)
Winchester '73 (1950)

The Librarian of Congress is already accepting nominations from the public for 2016. The nomination form is here.


Best Sequels

From the November/December issue of Film Comment comes the magazine’s always provocative “Film Comment’s Trivial Top 20” list, curated by their contributors. What do you think? 

Best Sequels
1. The Godfather: Part II
2. Dawn of the Dead
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. Before Sunset
5. The Bride of Frankenstein
6. For a Few Dollars More
7. Toy Story 2
8. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
9. Aliens
10. Evil Dead II
11. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
12. Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior
13. A Shot in the Dark
14. Mad Max: Fury Road
15. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
16. Sanjuro
17. From Russia with Love
18. Aparajito
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
20. French Connection II


One of the Best of 2015

Coming soon, our staff curated best-of round up will be posted for library users but in the meantime, here is one of my favorite movies released in 2015 that will make my list. 

Ex Machina is one of this year’s best films. Led by strong performances by actors Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, director/writer Alex Garland’s debut doesn’t attempt to reinvent the clever, ideas-filled sci-fi movie that many have described it as being but it definitely doesn’t shy away from immersing the viewer in an original and intense examination of philosophical, scientific and moral investigations that feel both pertinent and cinematically fresh. Surely, it is a work that explores what so many science fiction films before it have tried to grapple with, the question of what makes us human in an age where artificial intelligence not only exists in the conceptual realm but in the everyday as well. What drives Ex Machina to stand out as a great film are the subtleties that the actors and the director bring to the weighty subject matter that should result in some abundant, late night conversations about the film’s themes, ambiguities and symbolism.