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Staff Picks: Movies

Making the Grade

There’s just not enough time to compose a lengthy review of some of the great and not-so great feature films, television series and documentaries that I’ve caught over the past month, so instead, I’m handing out a grade and an abridged appraisal.

Bastards—A grim, pointless waste of time from French Director Claire Denis (C-)
Hateship Loveship—Continued proof that former SNL star comedian Kristin Wiig should keep looking for dramatic roles (B)
Orphan Black—Yes, lead actress Tatiana Maslany was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her multiple roles in this great BBC-produced show about clones (A)
Requiem for the Big East—For college basketball fans who grew up in the 1980’s and recall watching these legendary teams, this ESPN documentary will rouse a healthy dose of nostalgia (B+)
The Bridge—in keeping with the very trendy, neo-noir subject of serial killing and the relationship between detectives charged with solving the mysteries (see: True Detective), this cross-border drama explores the messy dialectics of national politics, the consequences of drug/human trafficking and the tension between rich and poor (B+)
Captain Phillips—nothing here was particularly new, assuming you followed the story when it originally unfolded, but it still remains a dramatically compelling, well-paced action film that will jump-start your adrenalin (A-)
Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of the New Yorker—a satisfactory if not condensed portrait of an eccentric visionary and his creative collaborators who developed a unique and lasting publication (B)

and...

Palo Alto—a drained, vacuous sketch of the psychic ennui of rich, white teens whose lives gravitate around sex, drugs, video games and pathetic, exploitative adults (D)



Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions is Paul Walkers next to last movie before his death, Fast & Furious 7 being his last. This is one of those movies that you just have to sit back and let it entertain you. I kept thinking, oh my goodness with that many guns and that many thugs surely someone will hit something. But no, Damien (Paul Walker) and Lino (David Belle) keep running down alleys and jumping in cars, bullets flying and for the most part only dumpsters and car doors get shot. Take a section of the city and erect a wall around it, fill it with thugs, toss in a bomb that needs deactivating and you have got your movie. Damien is a cop who infiltrates Brick Mansions with the help of Lino, his mission is to deactivate the bomb. David Belle, who plays Lino, is a cofounder of Parkour, which is a discipline using acrobatic moves like leaping from walls and over gaps, ground rolls and precision jumping. So you have to figure there will be a lot of that in this movie. Come on down to KPL and check it out.

The Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.

Last Year at Marienbad
Muriel
Citizen Kane
Memento
Fight Club
Big Fish
Rashomon
The Usual Suspects
Possessed
Forest Gump
Atonement
Fallen
American Psycho
Lolita
The Great Gatsby


Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Blue

I knew very little about Blue Ruin when I went to see it at Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse theater—just that it was a revenge thriller that had been widely beloved by critics. It was one of the “Drafthouse Recommends” featured titles, which—for movie buffs like me—is a stamp of approval worth heeding. And wouldn’t you know it: this edge-of-your-seat thriller has turned out to be the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. I appreciated not knowing even the basic premise of the film going into it—a rarity in this age of oversharing, spoiler-y trailers—so I will tell you very little about it in hopes that you will be pleasantly surprised as well.

Here’s what I’ll share: As I’ve said, it’s a revenge thriller, so you know somebody wants to get back at somebody else, but it will take that premise in surprising directions; it’s bloody, so you’ll need to be able to stomach some gore; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll get to see Eve Plumb, best known for playing Jan on The Brady Bunch in her youth, wielding a machine gun (who doesn’t want to see that?).  So check it out: Blue Ruin, available soon on DVD here at KPL, and keep an eye out for more “Drafthouse Recommends” titles. The Alamo brings a lot of great films to Kalamazoo that no other theater does. As a die-hard movie fan, I rarely go anywhere else.

Movie

Blue Ruin
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http://kzpl.ent.sirsi.net/client/KPL/search/results?qu=Blue+Ruin&qf=FORMAT%09Format%09VIDEODISC%09Video+disc&te=ILS&lm=ALLLIBS&rt=false%7C%7C%7CTITLE%7C%7C%7CTitle

Enemy: Style Over Substance

Last year, the psychological thriller Prisoners was a break out hit for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. With his follow-up film Enemy, once again starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the director embraces Hitchcockian style and atmosphere over formal plotting. Enemy is a kind of tone poem of dread and anxiety that I suspect will leave many a viewer grumpy and unsatisfied (more description would only spoil it). I for one enjoyed Villeneuve’s playful antics and commitment to the project over any kind responsibility to provide viewers with a conventional follow up. Fans will either love the Kafkaesque horror of the film or despise it for its provocative resistance to philistinism.  You decide.

Movie

Enemy
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Cannes Film Festival Winners

This year’s Cannes Film Festival winners included Winter Sleep (Best Film), Bennett Miller (Best Director), Julianne Moore (Best Actress) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor). Here’s a look back at some of the films that have previously been awarded the prestigious Palme d’or. 
 
Black Orpheus—1959
The Leopard—1963
Paris, Texas—1984
Blowup—1967
The Conversation—1974
Pulp Fiction—1994
Taste of Cherry—1997
Missing—1982
The White Ribbon—2009
Taxi Driver—1976

Movie

Black Orpheus
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Highsmith at the Movies

Writer Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been adapted for the big screen on more than one occasion. Clearly, directors from varied backgrounds have felt something motivating in her twisting tales of deception and murder. Her ominous story (The Talented Mr. Ripley) of a young American sent to Italy to return an expatriate, school chum to his father in San Francisco was the inspiration for French director Rene Clement’s (Forbidden Games) Purple Noon. This stylish, Hitchcockian adaptation was the coming out party for 1960’s French heartthrob Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, the cold and calculating con man who wants more than just a courier fee for the return of the glib, rich boy. German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) took Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game and transformed it into The American Friend (1977), a beautifully shot thriller that burns slowly as a psychological portrait of desperation into one of unleashed madness, if not comically so. The late British director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) made a patchy version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Jude Law, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Matt Damon in 1999.

Movie

Purple Noon
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In Space, No One Can Hear Sandra Bullock Lose an Oscar

Sandra Bullock may have taken on deadly space debris in Best Picture contender Gravity, but it’ll likely be Cate Blanchett that destroys her chances at winning a second Oscar come Sunday, March 2nd.  That’s right, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony is less than two weeks away, which mean now’s the time to catch up on all those critically-acclaimed movies you’ve been meaning to watch.  Thankfully, the Kalamazoo Public Library is here to help with this list of all the Oscar-nominated films that you can check out from us right now:

 Several more Oscar contenders will be available on DVD or Blu-ray very soon:

  • With 10 nominations (including Bullock’s), Gravity (available February 25th) will be a force to be reckoned with on Oscar night.  It has a great shot at winning Best Picture and Director (Alfonso Cuarón) and is also the front-runner for technical categories like Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.  The film was also recognized for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.
  • Also out on February 25th is Nebraska, which welcomed nominations for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Actor (Bruce Dern), Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.

 These Oscar contenders will be available in March, and you can place a hold on them right now:

Keep an eye out for the rest of the nominees, which are sure to follow.  In the meantime, come on down to KPL and start prepping for Oscar night!

Movie

Gravity
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Riddick Riddick sounds like a frog

The movie and the man “Riddick” is one of the deadlist frogs you would ever meet. Riddick played by Vin Diesel is a man not a frog, just to be clear. I just like that it sounds like Ribbit Ribbit like a frog. Riddick being the past Lord of the Necromongers would probably not like having his name made fun of. In the movie Riddick has made a deal with Commander Vaako; the location of Furya and a ship to take him there, in exchange for Vaako becoming the next Lord Marshall. Well, they take him to a desolate planet instead and try to kill him. Riddick kills most of his assassinators. But Krone manages to shoot up a rock ledge causing a landslide to burry Riddick. This was all a lead up to keep the story in line and get to what most of this movie is about. Riddick needs to get off the planet. The Planet is full of deadly creatures, one looks like a scorpion but is much larger, more like 50 pounds. The other is a creature that looks a cross between a dog and a leopard. Mostly Riddick is a harden heart kind of guy who can easily kill but he also lives by a code. In this movie they humanize him and make you like him a little more than the bad guys he fights by having him get one of these leopard dog puppies. The dog when grown fights by Riddick’s side and alerts Riddick to danger. Riddick finds an abandon outpost (how convenient, without this there would be no movie, he would just die) He sets a bunch of traps and then hits the emergency beacon which scans him and sends out an alert that Riddick a wanted man with a large bounty is here on this planet. Two different teams come and try to claim the bounty. Riddick leaves a note in the blood of one of them to leave him one ship. The rest of the movie is various attempts to catch or kill Riddick and Riddick killing them. I found the one shot of them looking for Riddick and he is sitting on top of their space ship listening to them scurry about in terror of him, while he is peeking through their sun roof and cutting off pieces of a carrot and eating them to be comical. I think it was supposed to show how superior he is but it gave me a chuckle instead of awe. This is the third movie in a series of Riddick movies. From the sounds of the extras on the DVD there will be more Riddick movies. Give it a try or see them in order, Pitch Black 2000, The Chronicles of Riddick 2004 and Riddick 2014.

Movie

Riddick
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A Crossbow Arrow to the Head is a good way to start a movie

I was afraid that the movie You’re Next was going to be just another slasher movie. Go for the gore, forget about the plot. But I was pleased with You’re Next. It did have the blood splashings and it did have a guy get shot in the head with a crossbow but it also had a guy get shot in back with a crossbow and a guy get his head caved in by a meat cleaver and a guy get his head chewed up by a blender. So yeah it had the gore. It also tried for the freaky suspense and the bad guys wore animal masks. Always creepy when can not see your attackers face and even creepier if he is wearing a mask. I gotta say it did enhance my movie experience to see a guy in a lambs head mask take a sledge hammer and use it like a golf club or maybe a crochet mallet to the head of one of their prey. It also had a bit of a mystery to it. Why are they being attacked. Mostly the suspense was what will happen next. Oh, and I did learn a few things, like if you take a board and drive nails through it, it makes a good deterrent for anyone sneaking in through your window, but it also makes them good and mad. If you are looking for a horror type movie but with humans in animal masks, try You’re Next available with many other titles at KPL.

Movie

You’re Next
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Captivating, Pun Intended

As a new parent, my interest in stories of kidnapping and child abduction has suspiciously dwindled, and yet the stellar reviews for Denis Villeneuve’s recent film Prisoners compelled me to watch it.  In it, Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a survivalist father whose daughter goes missing along with her best friend.  A suspicious camper is seen in the nearby area, and when the police attempt to question the driver, he behaves erratically and tries to flee.  The suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is arrested, questioned, and his camper and home are combed over by a forensic crew.  No evidence is discovered, and the police deem Jones to be mentally incapable of taking the children without a leaving a trace, so he is released.  This incenses Dover, who believes the children are still out there, waiting to be rescued.  When it’s clear that the lead detective, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, has moved on to other leads, Dover decides to take the matter into his own hands.  He kidnaps Jones, holes him up in an abandoned building, and proceeds to torture the suspect in hopes that it will lead to the whereabouts of the girls.

Despite the bleak premise, Prisoners ends up sticking with you for all the right reasons.  The film dares you to question how far you would go to rescue your own endangered child.  At once you want Dover to push through the barriers created by a plodding police investigation, yet his vigilantism clearly veers out of control.  We’ve seen Jones behave villainously, but by the time Dover has beaten him to an unrecognizable pulp, it’s hard not to feel reluctant sympathy.  On top of this, Villeneuve does a great job getting the viewer to wonder whether or not Jones is guilty; in one great sequence, Dover believes he hears Jones say something incriminating under his breath that no one else around them catches, and smartly, the audio is too muffled to allow the audience to hear it either.

Prisoners succeeds in no small part because of its actors: Hugh Jackman gives a performance that in less-crowded years might have been considered for a Best Actor Academy Award nomination; Paul Dano is reliably creepy; Melissa Leo continues her streak of stellar turns; and Jake Gyllenhall brings the right level of world-weariness to the lead detective who seems to be hindered by an overwhelming bleakness that has beaten him down over the years.

When I first saw a preview for Prisoners I was put off by what seemed to be a very by-the-numbers revenge mystery.  Thankfully, the film turned out to be so much more, and as I settle into this pre-Oscars period of assembling my favorite films of the past year, it’s looking more and more like this movie I cannot shake is going to make my top ten.

Movie

Prisoners
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