One day when I walked into my bank one of the very nice employees, who knew that I worked in Reference at KPL, said she had seen a good movie that made her think of me. I was glad she recommended 'The Desk Set' because I enjoyed it very much. Filmed in 1957, the setting is the reference area of the library at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company. A seasoned cast, headed by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, works through a comic story line that involves the computerization of the library (already in 1957!). Thinking the computer is there to take over their jobs, the librarians fight mightily to prove that service by humans is superior to any that could be rendered by a machine. In the end, they find out that the computer has been installed to assist them, not replace them, and all is well. Even without the good plot, which takes place during the end-of-the-year holidays, 'The Desk Set' is worth watching just for the furnishings and architecture. Actually, the library and its methods of operation in this film are much closer to the KPL in which I began working in 1969 than to the library of today. Tempus fugit!
Desk Set [videorecording]
The Father of Invention stars Kevin Spacey as a "Fabricator" . In the movie they explain that the definition of a Fabricator is one who takes two things and puts them together to make something new, they also say that the fourth definition says Liar. The movie begins showing Kevin Spacey as a successful business man worth 1.6 billion dollars. They briefly show you some of his successful products and then show his latest AB Cruncher Television remote control. Unfortunately it has a design flaw and has a tendency to lop of peoples fingers. Kevin Spacey goes to jail for 8 years and the movie really begins with his release from jail and his struggle to regain a life in the business field and with his estranged family. Coming out of jail his appearance has changed from crisp business man to dirty ragged long stringy hair homeless man. As the movie progresses he slowly changes appearance loses the long stringy hair. In the transition part he wears clothes picked out by his daughter's Lesbian friend played by Heather Graham. She is not fond of him and in the guise of getting him hip clothes he looks like a loser. Throughout the movie he tries to come up with a new great idea that will put him back on top. One of the best scenes is when Heather Graham is showing him Guitar Hero and she is playing the guitar and he is on the drums, he says what would make this even better, thinking hey I can do my thing and fabricate, is if it had a microphone at which time Heather tosses one at him because the idea has already been thunked.Of course being a movie, he does come up with an idea and it does put him back on top but along the way he realizes family is important and cue the rainbows all is wonderful. I liked the movie. It will not will an award, it will not be on my top 100 list but I didn't feel like I wasted 93 minutes either. I also happen to like Kevin Spacey and Heather Graham.
Father of Invention
Every summer, several of my friends and I travel up north for the annual Traverse City Film Festival. Founded by Michigan native Michael Moore and co-chaired by Hollywood folk like Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin and Borat director Larry Charles, this cinema-stuffed week gives us a chance to soak in all the indie and foreign films, incisive documentaries and beloved classics that our increasingly sore posteriors can handle. (We also find time to relax and simply enjoy the beautiful T.C. area when we’re not staring at the silver screen.) One of our most beloved rituals is getting the whole gang together for a midnight movie of choice; these usually consist of foreign or indie horror films that will never see a wide release in the United States. Several of the ones we have screened have gone on to achieve cult-classic status: brilliant Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In; Norwegian Nazi-zombie gore-fest Dead Snow; South Korean rampaging-monster movie The Host. In the summer of 2010, we had the opportunity to screen another such instant gem—one that, until recently, had bafflingly avoided a distribution deal: the top-notch horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
T&DvE is the kind of tongue-in-cheek splatter flick that offers as much joy from satire and humor as it does from excessive carnage. The story follows the two titular hapless hillbillies as they set off for their dilapidated vacation home out in the woods. On their way, they have an unfortunate run-in with a gaggle of snobby college kids who mistake their curiosity for threatening redneck menace. Tensions mount when one of the girls, Allison, has a swimming accident and winds up in the care of a love-struck Dale and an inconvenienced Tucker. The guys try to let the kids know they’ve rescued Allison, but their methods—which include shouting through the woods, “Hey college kids! We’ve got your friend!”—lead the suspicious youth to believe she’s been kidnapped. The college kids mount an assault on Tucker and Dale, but a series of very unfortunate and very bloody accidents (let’s just say bees and chainsaws don’t mix, nor do wood chippers and lunging) result in a body count that only reinforces Tucker’s and Dale’s images as crazed murderous lunatics, while convincing them that the college kids have some sort of suicide pact.
Credit for the success of this film certainly belongs, in part, to first-time feature director and co-writer Eli Craig. But the lead cast for this film cannot be more perfect: 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden gets to expand her comedy chops as Allison; Dale is played by Tyler Labine, best known for TV’s short-lived Reaper and the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But best of all is Firefly/Serenity MVP Alan Tudyk, a talented movie and TV actor whose comedic timing is unparalleled in Hollywood. He’s simply one of the funniest guys working today.
So if you are in the mood for a great horror-comedy in the tradition of the Evil Dead franchise or Shaun of the Dead, check out Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. And then, maybe, rethink that backwoods camping trip you were planning for next summer, and come spend your late-July inside a movie theater in Traverse City with me.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Mr. Popper's Penguins
I thought I'd give this movie a try, it looked cute but it had Jim Carrey in it. I entered this movie with trepidation. Jim Carrey can be funny but 98% of the time, to me, he isn't. I find his silly shenanigans not appealing to my comedic tastes. I did like this movie, Jim Carrey was not the Jim Carrey of Ace Ventura but more of the Bruce Almighty type. The Penguins were adorable. I thought for sure they were CGI but seeing the DVD extras I found they were real. I think the DVD extras said it best, Penguins are 10 times better than puppies. I think the story they wrap around the penguins is ok but the movie is the Penguins. And yes there is bathroom humor, after all it is a Jim Carrey movie.
The movie is about a little boy and his relationship with his father and later when grown up his relationship with his family. The typical work before family and then discover that family comes first. Jim Carrey's father was an explorer, hence the sending of the gift of penguins. Jim Carrey is separated from his wife played by Carlo Gugino and has two children played by Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Cotton. Jim Carrey is a big shot acquiring real estate tearing down landmarks building new buildings, the penguins arrive he discovers love. The story is ok but the fun part is watching the penguins. I also enjoyed Ophelia Lovibond who played Pippi. She must have worked hard on her dialog. They had her speak almost exclusively using words that began with a P.
If you can tolerate or better yet fast forward through some of the slapstick parts you will enjoy this movie. If you have a eight year old who thinks a farting penguin is funny then no fast wording necessary.
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Rare Exports is not your ordinary Christmas tale and certainly is not for kids. In this movie Santa is the Finland version. Santa PUNISHES bad kids. He whips them with a stick and makes them bleed, he puts them in a pot of boiling water. The movie plot is that Pietari a young lad lives with his father who herds reindeer. Some big giant company is excavating a mountain to free an evil Santa who has been frozen and buried many years ago. On a certain night each year Reindeer run through Pietari's town and his father and most of the village herd them into a giant corral and that's how they make their money for the entire year. I'm not sure how they know which night but they do. Well this time all the reindeer are found slain, hundreds of carcasses strewn about. This is tied to the unearthing of the bad Santa even though he is still frozen. His "elves" steal every heat producing device to thaw him out. The elves are not your typical short cute elf with pointy ears. They are old frumpy naked men who do not speak. You'll have to watch the movie to see how Pietari and the villagers deal with the evil Santa and the lack of their income. Oh and this movie is in their native tongue so there will be subtitles.
Rare Exports a Christmas Tale
There have been several touching, documentary portraits of musicians that are known both for their significant contributions to the world of music and for their personal struggles. Fans of cult artists like Daniel Johnston (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), Gram Parsons (Gram Parsons, Fallen Angel) and Harry Nilsson (Who is Harry Nilsson: And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) will surely want to watch Be Here to Love Me, the story of influential troubadour Townes Van Zandt. This is a wonderful introduction to Van Zandt’s story and one that shouldn’t be ignored if you enjoy the music of country and folk artists like Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Steve Earle.
Be here to love me
The clanging of bells hung around the necks of goats, the elderly herder and his incessantly barking dog, and the soft whistle of an Italian breeze. Great films don’t always need a lot of dialogue and this one is no exception. A poetic and haunting film full of rich and mysterious images, director Michelangelo Frammartino forces the audience to surrender not to the language of a fabricated and plot-driven dialogue but rather to the meditative sounds of our mundane lives, the stirring rhythms of life—birth, death, ritual, and nature are presented as long, visual poems. This film is much better experienced than described so I won’t say much other than to suggest that Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) is one of the year’s most enigmatic films, once again, reinforcing the idea that a skillful use of economy and delicacy can produce a profound and moving piece of art.
Le Quattro Volte
If you’ve been anywhere near Planet Earth lately, it’s highly probable that you’ve seen some sort of advertisement or trailer for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the latest bombastic, hyper-stylized Guy Ritchie film starring Robert Downey Jr. as the insufferable master of deduction and Jude Law as his exasperated sidekick Watson. I thought their first Sherlock Holmes was decent enough—the slo-mo action sequences were crowd-pleasing and the two leads had plenty of Vaudevillian chemistry that packed on some quality laughs—I just found it sorely lacking in one of the most essential, elementary elements of a Sherlock Holmes story: mystery. As in there wasn’t one. Or much of any.
Thankfully, just a short while later, those with a Holmes jones could get their fix with a far superior take on 221B Baker Street: the 2010 BBC series Sherlock, which drops our protagonists down in twenty-first century London. Now, modern takes on Sherlock Holmes are nothing new—[cough] paging Dr. House [cough]—but this incarnation really embraces the gadget-y environment of a post-CSI world. Here, Holmes’ knack for observation is enhanced by technology: he’s as likely to use his smart phone and laptop to help solve a murder as he is his sense of sight. John Watson is now a traumatized military doctor recently returned from Afghanistan who blogs about his crime-solving adventures. Visually, the show is dark and arresting, with a nifty habit of flashing clues and phone texts up on screen as both as a reminder of the looming presence of technology and representation of how Sherlock’s brain processes data.
The series consist of three feature-length episodes inspired by the stories and tone of the original Arthur Conan Doyle works (“A Study in Scarlett” is now “A Study in Pink,” thanks to the color coordination of a murder victim). It features rising star Benedict Cumberbatch, whose deep, powerful voice is a favorite of both my wife and Peter Jackson (who cast him as the voice of Smaug the dragon in the now-filming version of The Hobbit) and Martin Freeman from the British version of The Office (who is also in The Hobbit, starring as the young Bilbo Baggins). As Holmes and Watson, respectively, these two leads are as entertaining to watch as Downey Jr. and Law, but their mysteries are far more gratifying. So feel free to see A Game of Shadows this holiday season, but make sure you check out the top-notch BBC version, truly one of the greatest Holmes adaptations to date.
Sherlock: Season One
Around this time of year many people begin to watch holiday classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas, but there's a handful of great movies that take place around Thanksgiving worth checking out. I'm not thinking of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Miracle on 34th Street, or even Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Thanksgiving can be a time of anxiety, with tension between family members threatening to spoil the day, so naturally some of the best Thanksgiving films center on dysfunctional families.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): This film takes place over the course of two Thanksgivings, following the ups and downs and twists and turns in the lives of three sisters, played by Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey. There's sibling rivalry, midlife crises, and hypochondria, but the movie's true charms are the richly human characters and the outstanding soundtrack. This is my favorite Woody Allen film, as well as my favorite movie to watch on Thanksgiving.
The Ice Storm (1997): Set in 1973 suburban Connecticut, this film follows two upper middle class families over Thanksgiving weekend. Much darker than Hannah and Her Sisters, The Ice Storm explores the upheaval in social norms during that time, with amazing performances by Christina Ricci, Kevin Kline, and Sigourney Weaver.
Pieces of April (2003): April, the outcast of her family, offers to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her family in her cramped New York City apartment, but, of course, nothing goes according to plan. I have to admit this movie would be better without Katie Holmes as April, but Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt as April's parents make up for Holmes' lackluster performance, and the soundtrack by the Magnetic Fields doesn't hurt either.
Hannah and Her Sisters
There have been a slew of Saturday Night Live alumni that haven’t accomplished much of anything after they departed from the long-running late night show. For every Tina Fey or Eddie Murphy, there have been countless cast members whose careers stalled. Fey’s good friend and sometime collaborator Amy Poehler, has had tremendous success with her hit show Parks and Recreation. I just love this show for its bumbling characters and madcap storylines, all of which center around the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. Longtime fans of the show The Office will recognize many similarities between the two series, including how the show is formatted, filmed and narrated. Here’s to hoping that the quirky, smart plotlines continue to stay fresh and hilarious.
Parks and Recreation
For many Pixar fans, the original Cars was the least interesting addition to the studio's impeccable feature film canon on its initial release. At over two hours, its length may be a factor in viewers’ disdain, but I’d also guess that prejudices against NASCAR and Larry the Cable Guy play a part. Circle racing’s not for everyone (though neither is French cuisine cooked up by rats – the overwhelming praise for Ratatouille still perplexes me).
No circle racing in Cars’ sequel – it’s been ditched for the fictional World Grand Prix road race, moving the action to some of the world's great cities and their frantic pace, and away from Radiator Springs and most of its inhabitants (and the small-town ideals of the original film’s storyline). The main Cars characters found here – race car sensation Lightning McQueen and his trusty, rusty sidekick Mater – get tangled up in an international espionage plot worthy of the James Bond franchise (Mater’s mistaken for a spy, which causes trouble on and off the track between him and Lightning, until… well, like Bond films, do the plot details really matter?).
Ultimately, Cars 2’s returning characters suffer the same fate as the Beatles in Help! – they end up as extras in their own movie. The similarities between the films is striking – the goofy protagonist (Ringo, Mater) works and plays with friends in exotic locales (the Beatles’ proto-video performances, Lightning and Mater’s racing set-pieces) while unwittingly being pursued by a variety of good and bad guys led by award-winning actors (Leo McKern, Michael Caine). The results are similar as well – anyone not having seen the previous film (A Hard Day’s Night, Cars) may have no emotional attachment to the characters on-screen.
Cars 2 isn’t really a bad film – animation is top-notch as always, and if you’re really into spy flicks loaded with action, you may enjoy it without ever having watched the original. Still, since strong emotional attachment to characters in Pixar films is a primary source of those films’ greatness, Cars 2’s inability to sustain that attachment makes it the least of the studio’s feature film efforts to date.
The Human Experience is a documentary film featuring Jeffrey and Cliff Azize, two brothers who go on an adventure to discover the meaning of life. Jeff asks the ageless questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? Jeff and Cliff grew up in an abusive home, no love, no security. Now they live in a halfway house in New York City. They and two friends decide to explore communities where people shunned by society live.
Grassroots Films actually films the events as they happen, thrusting the truth at us. For their first experience they live homeless for one week in New York City in February’s frigid 5 degree temps. They converse with the homeless and discover a commonness amongst the homeless: humility and vulnerability, a desire for dignity and respect.
For their second experience they travel to Peru with Will Kinnane, founder of Surf for the Cause, a group of surfers who work on community projects. They volunteer at a children’s hospital that treats mutilated, abused, and abandoned children. The children are so happy despite their physical conditions and people cannot understand this. One volunteer states: it’s not what we give them, it’s what they give us. They give us a reason to live. The joy of living is what the kids have. Many young people do not have a purpose and meaning of their life. Many young people need to experience that this life matters.
For their third experience they travel to Ghana, Africa, and see African people dancing and celebrating life, the joy of life. On their way to visit a leper colony, Jeff and Cliff visit a community where dying AIDS victims live, a mother and her baby, where suffering and death prevail. How do they cope with facing death? Then, at the leper colony, the lepers are looked at as outcasts, segregated from the rest of society. When Jeff asks a leper why do you bother to get up every morning, he responds that Love is what matters, you are my brother, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
This captivating documentary is very worthwhile. It’s not always easy to watch, but it is rich with joy; featuring commentaries from experts in humanitarian and religious fields. This film zeroes in on what it means to be human and it delivers!
The Human Experience
The newly released film Submarine is a sharply written, sweetly-toned, dark comedy reminiscent of the quirky films of Wes Anderson (see: Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaum’s) and the lively joie de vivre of the French New Wave. The film doesn’t cover new ground in terms of themes and subject matter, but it sustains your interest and deserves to be seen for the beautifully rendered cinematography (the gray, sunless beauty of the Welsh coast is its own character) and the strong acting performances, especially the work of Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the protagonist’s parents. The movie is an adaptation of the novel by author Joe Dunthorne, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Oliver Tate is an angst-filled and precocious teen who sits in class, fantasizing about his own death and how his schoolmates will remember him (heroically of course). Cut from a similar cloth as Harold from Harold and Maude and possessive of the qualities of a slightly neurotic, hormonally-driven teenager (see: every coming of age movie over the past fifty years) who speaks with a rapid-fire deadpan, Oliver sets out to address his two biggest concerns as a 15 year-old: saving his parents’ marriage from a new age “mystic” and figuring out his relationship with his firework’s-obsessed, anti-romantic romantic girlfriend Jordana. In between these two goals, Oliver plays movies in his head and listens to the records of French crooners. He constructs mental films of his existential woes (what tormented teen doesn’t?) and not surprisingly, has a Woody Allen photo on his bedroom wall and reads Catcher in the Rye and Nietzsche (because as we all know, most teens are reading The Birth of Tragedy). His problems range from the domestic to the romantic, both conflicts driving him to actions both absurdly funny and achingly real. Some of the best parts of the movie are when Oliver attempts to intervene in his parents’ rocky marriage, spying on them both while conceiving of ways to bring them closer. The soundtrack, written by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys is fantastic as well.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been compiling my Best of 2011 list, an annual ritual of sorts, comprised of my favorite books, movies and music published throughout the year. But what about all of the great movies and music from years gone by that I’ve recently embraced and enjoyed? Well, here is a list of films that I’ve recently viewed, some of which are well known classics and others that are gems just waiting to be discovered and checked out. Compared to recently released films, they hold up quite well.
All That Heaven Allows: The great director Douglas Sirk’s classic tale of domestic and social conflict between a restless widow (Jane Wyman) and a close minded society that refuses to accept her love for a younger man played by Rock Hudson. The vibrant Technicolor and use of innovative filming techniques makes this seemingly conventional melodrama an influential touchstone for contemporary directors like Todd Haynes (his great movie Far From Heaven is a reworked homage to Sirk’s classic) and Ranier Fassbinder.
A Streetcar Named Desire: A stunning movie when you consider the time period in which it was made. Everything you’ve read about Marlon Brando’s visceral performance is accurate. His explosive screen presence set the stage for younger method actors to take more expressive approaches to acting. What I didn't know was how mesmerizing Vivian Leigh was going to be as the doomed Blanche DuBois.
Night of the Hunter: A perfectly rendered performance by Robert Mitchum as the creepy murderer posing as a preacher (famously adorned with the words hate and love tattooed on his knuckles) makes Night of the Hunter one of the 1950's most influential films. Mitchum’s deranged killer faces off against two children and an ornery grandmother as he tries to secure a large sum of stolen money. The famous ditty sung by Mitchum throughout the film was referenced by the Joel and Ethan Coen in their 2010 film True Grit during the closing credits.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: One of the director Martin Scorsese’s lesser known films from the 1970’s but a strong, poignant film nonetheless. Driven by the award-winning, tour de force performance of Ellen Burstyn, Alice tells the story of a young mother in search of a career as a torch singer. Unsuccessful in love and singing, Alice ends up in the American Southwest working as a waitress at Mel’s Diner (later to be spun off as a television sitcom). Kris Kristofferson plays a man who shows an interest in Alice and her son. Will Alice settle down and marry or will she head off to California to strike it big as a singer? Her quirky, talkative son provides the movie’s comedic and lighthearted touches. Cameos by future stars include a very young Jodie Foster and Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel.
The Big Sleep: A lively if often convoluted whodunit, this first adaptation of the Raymond Chandler classic, was a major success at the box offices when it was released in 1946. Starring Hollywood’s hottest couple at the time, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, this Phillip Marlowe-centered, detective thriller is one of the few book adaptations that translates well to the big screen in large part to the great chemistry between the two stars and the crackling dialogue, filled with gritty innuendo.
Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore
“That is the reason you go to college, not to make more money, but to gain the knowledge to make this a better world.” – Sambo Mockee
The fantastic documentary, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the spirit of the Rural Studio, tells the inspiring story of architect and teacher Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and the thought provoking work of the Rural Studio, a design/build program offered through Auburn University’s School of Architecture, which Mockbee co-founded. The Rural Studio focuses all of its projects on the citizens of Hale County Alabama, one of the poorest areas of the country and that is what makes it so utterly unique and what really makes this film so fascinating. Using recycled, found, or donated materials, the Rural Studio and it’s architects in training get a very real world, hands-on experience in creating what Mockbee referred to as an “architecture of decency”. Gifting beautiful, functional, and efficient structures to people whose day to day lives are spent in pretty shocking conditions, but whose dignity and worth as human beings is clearly respected by the students and the faculty of the Rural Studio. The program and Mockbee have become an inspiration for similar design/build experiences at other universities, and this film certainly does inspire, but it is the uniquely compassionate and socially responsible vision of Mockbee, who passed away from leukemia in 2001, that really shines and will, hopefully, reverberate far into the future.
The Swedish coming of age film My Life as a Dog (1987) is both touching and lighthearted, successfully balancing sentimentality with multifaceted, dramatic themes (loss, death, sexuality, friendship, etc.). The director Lasse Hallstrom’s most impressive work to date (even admitting in a 2002 interview that he has yet to top it with subsequent movies), tells the tale of both the innocent blossoming of youth and the harsh realization that life’s twists and turns often result in both delight and sorrow. Set in both the Swedish city and the bucolic countryside, My Life as a Dog follows the puberty-saddled Ingemar, a precocious 12 year old that cannot seem to avoid trouble, a predicament that makes life difficult for his ill mother and antagonistic brother. Sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle during the summer months, Ingemar comes to grip with both the hard truths of life and its rich and beautiful possibilities. A Soviet dog abandoned in space, the sweet science of boxing, a confusing if not budding friendship/romance, eccentric townies and a controversial sculpture add peripheral character to this charming story of embracing setbacks with humor, love and barking.
My Life as a Dog
This is a must-see documentary for parents who have children engaged in violent sports like football. Tackling the dangerous rise in concussions and physical injuries to young football players, Football High also shines a light on the culture and industry of high stakes football programs. As more and more evidence mounts regarding the brain’s response to concussions and accumulative damage from physical trauma, the film's producers pose the question: what are the long-term risks associated with violent sports and are schools prepared for the consequences or will big money and athletic prestige trump the safety and health of student athletes?
I’m not usually a fan of mysteries, but I am a fan of Jason Schwartzman, so when I found Bored to Death in our collection, I gave it a try. Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames (also the name of the writer/creator of the show), a struggling novelist who, on a whim, places an ad on Craigslist offering affordable private detective services. Jonathan is a pothead, drinks too much white wine, and can’t get over his ex-girlfriend, making his efforts to solve cases (and just get through life in general) pretty funny. Ted Danson plays Jonathan’s boss George, a wealthy magazine editor as clueless as Jonathan, and Zach Galifianakis plays a struggling comic-book artist and best friend to Jonathan. Overall the show is fairly conventional, but it has some very funny lines that make it worth watching.
Bored to Death
Marwencol is the story of Mark Hogancamp, a man who constructed a fictional universe made up of World War 2 toy soldiers and Barbie dolls. This first-rate documentary follows Hogancamp’s artistic endeavors and provides the contextual grounding for understanding Hogancamp’s drive to heal both physically and emotionally while exploring in great detail, the highly personal and original nature of his work. Hogancamp was brutally attacked outside of a bar by five people. After emerging from a coma, he lost most of his memories and suffered both physical and emotional damage as a result. For therapeutic reasons and to aid in his recovery, Hogancamp began to develop a fictional account of a war strewn town called Marwencol (constructed outside of his trailer home) populated by soldiers, wherein which many of the characters assume the names of friends and co-workers in Hogancamp’s real life. Hogancamp situates the dolls within a variety of plot twists, even going so far as to fashion a time machine out of an old VCR that allows one of his characters travel time in order to save the story’s main protagonist from the Nazi dolls. He then photographs the dolls playing out their various scenes, many of which mirror Hogancamp’s own life.
What happens when Hogancamp’s fantasy world of violence and revenge is discovered by an art critic and subsequently asked to exhibit his work in a fancy NYC art gallery? You’ll just have to find out. Marwencol will appeal to artists and non-artists alike. Recommended.
Has it really been 25 years I heard my inner voice ask yesterday when NPR highlighted the quarter of a century anniversary of Stand by Me, the classic film adaptation of a Stephen King short story that starred a young River Phoenix. I find myself often uttering those words more and more. A true sign of aging I suppose.
But anyway, back to the movie. Rob Reiner of All in the Family fame directed this tale of a group of young high school boys who venture out into the wild Oregon mountains in search of a missing body, presumably that of a local boy who had died. What they ultimately learn is that family relations are complex, growing up can be difficult and that the friendships that they develop during the teenage years can last a very long time. Check out this classic 80’s coming of age tale.
Stand by me
You never know what you’ll find at KPL (unless you look in our catalog or browse the New Items). The other day I was browsing the action movies when I happened upon The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice. I was so excited at the thought of a librarian as an action hero that I checked it out and brought it home. Once there, I looked more closely, and discovered that it is the third in the series. The series, which starts with The Librarian: Quest for the spear, and continues with The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s mines, stars Noah Wyle in quite a departure from his role on ER. (The first movie also has Bob Newhart’s first ever action sequence.)
It is a facet of my personality that I much prefer to start a series at the beginning. Quest for the spear was checked out, and the only available copy of Return to King Solomon’s mines was at a branch I wasn’t planning on visiting immediately, so I placed holds on both of them and they arrived shortly for pickup. Hooray!
Watching these movies was a blast. They also got me thinking about librarians as heroes. Here at KPL we can help you with research for a class assignment, find you diagrams that will help you repair your own car, and make suggestions for books to read for pleasure. We bring you exciting programs for children, tweens, teens, and adults; offer resources for genealogy as well as legal research. We do this all on a shrinking budget. I work with some amazing people who provide fantastic services.
So stop in and meet some of our hero librarians and other staff. We’ll save you from rainy-summer-day doldrums with books, movies, music and magazines.
(PS: One line review: I laughed so hard that I drooled on myself.)
The librarian: quest for the spear
Last year’s Rabbit Hole shares several thematic similarities with the Best Picture of 1980, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People. Both films tackle the subject of grief and how the painful loss of a child often can lead to marital strain as the two people struggle to forgive themselves and to move on with their lives. It’s a simple story: a young boy is accidentally killed while chasing the family dog into the street. The husband and wife, played with humanity and compassion by Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman work through their emotional pain, sadness and guilt by taking different paths toward healing. I was most surprised by the range of emotional depth that Eckhart brought to his role. Overall, Rabbit Hole succeeds by not being heavy handed and manipulative but rather a genuine glimpse of two people trying to make sense of their new world.
Produced by Nickelodeon studios – which gave the world SpongeBob and slime – Rango was heavily promoted on Nick’s cable channel (and elsewhere) just prior to its theatrical release last March. Why not? The film is populated by talking animals, its lead character (voiced by Johnny Depp, star of Rango director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean series) is naively charming and quirky, and, hey, it’s animated! Must be a kids’ flick.
Not so fast. It’s not that kids won’t enjoy Rango – my first-grader did – it’s just that Rango may really be a cult film for adults disguised as a kids’ flick. (Yes, my kid enjoyed it, but didn’t talk about it much past the day we saw it.) While most decent kids’ films in the last decade have plenty of references kids may not get, the entirety of Rango will make the most sense to adults who have grown up with, well, films for grown-ups.
Our hapless title hero, a domesticated lizard who, like Bolt and so many other animated big-screen pets, gets separated from his cushy lifestyle in the film’s opening moments, is thrown into a gritty western scenario more evocative of Anthony Mann than Woody’s Roundup. Townspeople are terrorized by villains who control the town’s water supply (shades of Chinatown), so when the goofy stranger arrives on the scene, they look to him as their last great hope (echoes of High Noon). Nothing here the kids can’t enjoy, but what’s up with that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference?
Rango’s classic western types are thoroughly engaging characters that should have their audience really caring about their fates, whether or not it cares about westerns. That said, familiarity with the western genre should make the film even more enjoyable. If that sounds like your kind of film, then don’t wait for the kids to pick it up from our collection.
In this lyrical, creative work intended to represent the live and times of legend Bob Dylan, the viewer finds himself allowing his own imagination to roll with the film. Six different actors represent Dylan at various points in his life and career: Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, and Ben Wishaw. While the film is inherently about Dylan, the only time his name appears is in the song credits. Each phase in his life is fictionalized with another character's name and details, but it is clear that the work is directly about this subtle iconoclast. My husband is a much bigger fan of Dylan than am I, but throughout the film, he commented constantly about various quotes or settings being exactly spot on. I liked it because I enjoyed the creative license taken with the characters--such as the African-American child representation of Woody Guthrie.
The Wikipedia article is very thorough in explaining the makings, summary, and inspiration for this film directed by Todd Haynes. IMDb has 11 videos to view related to this film. One snippet of Cate Blanchett's performance (which won her an Oscar nomination) is below:
I'm Not There
As I was driving to work today, I was reminded of the seminal 1990’s film Boyz in the Hood by way of a National Public Radio piece that summarized the story of how the movie was made and its lasting legacy. A college film student by the name of John Singleton wrote and directed this powerful depiction of life in South Central Los Angeles, a community in the late eighties that was struggling with gang violence. With a strong cast and script, BITH went on to have both commercial and critical success, launching the acting careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and the rapper Ice Cube. A Blu-ray edition has been released and will be here soon.
Boyz in the hood
The veteran actor Peter Falk passed away last week at the age of 83. Most associate the late actor with the television series Columbo. However, my favorite Falk performances are from the seminal 1970’s John Cassavetes film Woman Under the Influence and the poetic Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders.
Wings of Desire
This year, in recognition of LGBT Pride month, I watched Fagbug. I’d read about it online and wanted to know more. On the 11th Annual National Day of Silence, Erin Davies’ VW beetle was vandalized, with the words “fag” and “u r gay” spray-painted on it. Instead of cleaning it up and erasing the evidence of the hate crime, Davies chose to take the ‘fagbug’ on the road, building awareness of homophobia and hate crimes all across the country.
It was a brave move, and the movie chronicles people’s reactions – positive and negative—all over the U.S. Near the end of her journey, Davies learned that VW would sponsor her, and on completion of the trip, she transformed Fagbug, covering her car with gorgeous rainbow stripes. Fagbug was dubbed the “Best Gay Car Movie of the Year” by Vanity Fair.
When you look for Fagbug on the shelf, these are some other movies you might find nearby.
Gnomeo & Juliet is a very cute re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet. It has stars like James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Ossy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart, Hulk Hogan. It is a very well done computer animated family feature. There are Blue Gnomes in one Garden and Red Gnomes in the other Garden and of course like the story a Blue Gnome falls in love with the Red Gnome. But the great part of this movie is the adorable Gnomes. Throughout the movie they are warring with each other, having lawn mower races, and sneak attacks with weed killer. Whenever a human is around they freeze and you can hear the porcelain clink. Elton John produced this and his songs are in it. This is a fun movie for the whole family. I love the the stealthy sunflower gnome.
Gnomeo & Juliet
You might not think that a film where the primary character is stuck in the same place without the capacity to move for almost a week would possess the kind of dramatic force and narrative flow that is required of a movie almost two hours in length but Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours succeeds in keeping the audience focused and committed to the real-life story of Aron Ralston by intercutting flashbacks and dream-like sequences. It’s a terrifying journey yet one with a happy ending.
Ralston, played by actor James Franco, becomes trapped within a canyon wall in the Utah desert after a large boulder falls upon his right arm. Miles away from help and with little hope of rescue, Ralston must find within himself the physical and emotional strength to survive an almost unbelievable situation. For almost a week, the ingenious Ralston attempts to free his arm but to no avail. Finally, as death nears, Aron decides to extract himself with one last attempt. It should be noted that the squeamish may want to avert their eyes from some of the more gory details of Ralston’s heroic escape.
Inside Job, winner of the 2011 Oscar for best documentary, details the events that led to the economic crisis of 2008. It’s a well-made, informative film but one that you really have to be in the right mood to watch. That is, be prepared to get angry! Don’t let my warning stop you from watching it, though; if you don’t know much about the happenings behind the economic crisis, Inside Job clearly explains how decisions made over nearly thirty years culminated in a disastrous crash that cost the global market $20 trillion dollars. Along with this film, I recommend a 2008 episode of NPR’s This American Life to understand just what happened to the economy.
Bunny and the Bull is a trip into the imagination of Stephen who has agoraphobia and doesn't leave the apartment. The movie is scenes of Stephen now in his apartment and then we transform into scenes of his imagination. We see him going to bed and sleeping and next he's opening a door in the bed which he goes through and he is in Spain with his only friend Bunny (male) and they meet a girl who quits her job as a waitress and travels with them. Stephen has a crush on her and of course Bunny sleeps with her. Then we see Stephen crawling through the back of his sofa and into his living room. Bunny is outgoing and drags Stephen into things. The best line in the movie was from a Matador, he said "Much has been written about Bull fighting, but I can sum it up in one sentence -- Get out of the way of the Bull"
Bunny and the Bull
So what is Magnolia about? Well, it’s a movie that covers the deep contours and complexities of life lived and the death to be faced, the burden of guilt and the redemptive quality of forgiveness, the reconciliation of the past while struggling day to day to survive the here and now, the mysteriousness of coincidence and the weight of chance, and a few descending amphibians. You won’t find a film with a better ensemble cast. Directed and written with masterful grace and humanity by Paul Thomas Anderson, lovers of intelligent movies will forgive the film for its length (3 hours). Magnolia, more than just a flower, it’s a masterpiece that pieces together disparate lives and flawlessly connects them to what is often called the human condition. The two soundtracks (Jon Brion and Aimee Mann) are also fantastic companion pieces.
American film director/writer Terrence Malick is by no means prolific. In fact, the much admired auteur has only produced a handful of films over the past 30 years--his fifth work coming out this summer (Tree of Life). Malick’s movies are lush, visually sensual pictures mostly shot in outdoor settings, using natural light. His directorial style, known for its poetic touch, nevertheless wrestles with serious subject matter including the fog of war (The Thin Red Line), violence and celebrity (Badlands) and colonization (The New World). Fans of Malick’s work are a patient lot and are hoping that the star-studded (Brad Pitt and Sean Penn) Tree of Life lives up to the inevitable hype.
Even before the credits roll, we are informed “My name is Temple Grandin. I’m not like other people!” From there we begin to learn what is unique about Temple. Temple Grandin, PhD -- author, renowned animal scientist, Harvard University professor-- is a brilliant woman with autism.
This movie depicts the story of Grandin’s earlier years, with humor and insight, through her education and as she launches into her career. With the support of her mother, aunt and a caring science teacher, Temple perseveres in her education and career, despite insensitive, sexist treatment from ranchers and academes, who don’t respect her behavior, way of asking questions and manner of dressing. As her story unfolds, we watch her design a more humane system for herding slaughterhouse cattle, and ultimately, we see her graduate.
Claire Danes’ performance as Grandin is captivating. See for yourself.
Anyone having seen the resounding documentary Restrepo will have overwhelming feelings of angst, sadness, amazement, awe, injustice, wonderment, and all other things emotional when learning of Tim Hetherington's death in Libya this week. I'm not sure if it would be irony, poetic justice, or poetic injustice, that he died doing what he loved and what was so very, very dangerous in spreading the deep, complex messages of war. He, and several other journalists, were in the line of rebel fire in Misurata.
Of the few war documentaries and films I've seen, Restrepo will stand at the forefront of the one that had the most impact on me. WWI and WWII films were about grandparents. Vietnam and Korean conflict films were about fathers and uncles. But, Restrepo was about contemporaries, colleagues, friends, peers, brothers, and husbands. Identifying with the ages and faces of the soldiers in Restrepo, I was able to finally connect (albeit superficially) with war on the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual level.
Rest in peace, Mr. Hetherington.
Admittedly, I’m not a very big fan of television series. Those that I do enjoy tend to be dramas or comedies featured on cable networks (The Sopranos, Deadwood, In Treatment, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm). A friend of mine who is predisposed to making awful suggestions regarding films and television series mentioned that I might like the comedy How I Met Your Mother. Well, apparently you cannot be wrong all of the time and in this particular case, my friend’s suggestion hit the mark. HIMYM centers on mid-twenty-something, hopeless romantic Ted Mosby and his quirky journey to find his soul mate amongst millions of New Yorkers. Alongside Ted are his best friends Barney (the lecherous womanizer and author of the Bro Code), Lily and Marshall (the perfect, engaged couple) and Robin (a possible love interest). The unreliable narration unfolds in reverse to Ted’s children via flashbacks by the dubbed voice of Bob Saget in the year 2030.
How I Met Your Mother
I love zombie movies. I don’t care if the acting is bad or the budget is low, if a movie has zombies in it I’ll watch it. Of course I was happy when AMC decided to produce a TV show based on the graphic novel The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead follows police officer Rick Grimes as he struggles to survive in world where society has collapsed due to a mysterious virus that turns people into zombies. The show has a good balance between character development and action. The six-episode season seemed like tease to me—I can’t wait until season two starts in the fall.
If you’re not interested in investing time in a TV show, KPL has plenty of those zombie movies I like so much. My favorite, Shaun of the Dead, is a funny movie made by people who share my love of zombie films. If you’re interested in something a little scarier, there’s always 28 Days Later, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s take on the genre. And if camp and gore is what you want, give Dead Snow a try.
The Walking Dead
Never Let Me Go is a grim dystopia that explores the triangular relationship between Tommy, Kathy and Ruth—three British boarding school students who attempt to understand and reconcile secrets about their lives that sealed their fates when they were born. Based upon the novel by British writer Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), audiences who prefer their movies full with hope and buoyancy will likely be unsatisfied. Aside from the uncompromising darkness of the movie, the actors give strong performances and the cinematography is remarkably rendered with artistic flare.
Never let me go
Silver screen legend Dame Elizabeth Taylor was one of the greatest actresses of not only the 20th Century, but of all time. She was more than just the actress with eight husbands and close friend of Michael Jackson. Taylor was a force to be reckoned with on stage and screen. What I hope does not get missed in the days of discussion following her death on March 23, is her ability as to stun movie goers with a combination of beauty, grace, strength and talent. How many actresses can nail the variety of roles she did over her extensive career? Liz played them all from a little girl who loved horses, a Southern Belle, a prostitute, an alcoholic wife of a professor and a Queen! Taylor’s five best movies would obliterate the entire careers of most actors today. I followed Elizabeth Taylor on Twitter and one of my most favorite tweets from her sums it all up “No one is going to play Elizabeth Taylor, but Elizabeth Taylor herself.” There will never be another like Elizabeth Taylor.
My Five Favorite Elizabeth Taylor Movies
1. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
4. National Velvet
5. Butterfield 8
What is your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie?
Maybe you never heard of these series when they were first produced or maybe they didn’t appear on the surface to be your cup of tea, so you bypassed them altogether. Now, like a fine wine, aged with time, these programs are considered classics which pushed the television industry envelope. Here are a couple of television gems within our collection that you may want to revisit or experience for the first time.
Sports Night: A show written and produced by the award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin shortly before he moved his focus to The West Wing. Sports Night fuses comedy and drama together with a rapid-fire delivery of dialogue, reminiscent of Sorkin’s best work (A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). The show struggled to find a balance between humor and more weighty subject matter and thus confused both its network and audiences (the addition of laugh tracks were eliminated by the second season). It lasted a mere two seasons but is thought of as a forward-thinking show that posited inventive ideas about how to mix comedy and drama with the occasional sprinkling of politics.
Freaks and Geeks: Another show that baffled its network at the time of its release in 1999 and yet garnered both critical acclaim and a robust fan base. Set in 1980’s Michigan, Freaks and Geeks, like Sports Night, was adept at suturing madcap narratives and hilarious dialogue to sensitive themes and dramatic depth. The series centered around two high school cliques—the nervous and awkward incoming freshman crowd and the hard-to-reach students comprised of school rebels. The character Bill Haverchuck may be the most layered and multidimensional nerd in the history of television. Judd Apatow, the successful film director and producer was an Executive Producer on Freaks and Geeks and many of its actors have appeared in his other movie projects. The show’s future stars included James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps, and Seth Rogen.
The Larry Sanders Show: Years before Curb Your Enthusiasm emerged as one of HBO’s most cringe-worthy comedies and years before the overly self-conscious and meta-choreographed rise of reality television and shows like Entourage, there was The Larry Sanders Show—a show about a show. Comedian Gary Shandling plays a neurotic talk show host who rarely has a day off from the various shenanigans that fate has dealt him. Surrounding Larry is a well-rounded cast of celebrities playing themselves, often to hilarious effect as well has his screwball agent (Rip Torn), his Ed McMahon-like sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor) and host of other future stars like Jeremy Piven and Janeane Garofalo.
Freaks and Geeks
In today’s post, I’d like to highlight several films that engage in one way or another with the theme of forgiveness (both of oneself and that of others). The affirmative expression of forgiveness and its role in repairing damaged lives and communities will be a central point of discourse during this year’s Reading Together programs. Each of these films and their characters either directly or sometimes in subtle ways explores the ways in which subjects negotiate the complexities of forgiveness, either on a broad social level or that of individuals in search of unburdening of some sort of psychic pain in order to reconnect (Ordinary People). Throughout these films, there is a thematic current of struggle to redeem and to mend, coursing its way through the lives of characters as they hunt for meaning in an otherwise turbulent and uncertain world. Whether it’s the death row inmate seeking forgiveness prior to his execution in Dead Man Walking or the colonial slave trader in The Mission looking to amend for his earlier crimes amongst the same community he unjustly worked to destroy, films have long probed the difficulties and possibilities involved with reconciliation. So while you’re enjoying the book discussions with your fellow community members and participating in a Reading Together program or two, don’t forget to supplement your engagement with this always timely and dynamic topic with a thought provoking film from our rich collection.
The Straight Story
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Royal Tenenbaum's
This blog is fourth and final in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
El Inmigrante (The Immigrant)
This final documentary, El Inmigrante, tells the story of one who succeeded in reaching America, one who actually had succeeded several times and was experienced in crossing the desert where he would go on to work in America sending money home to his family. The last time Eusebio de Haro crossed through the desert he would never get home again. He and his travelling companion crossed the dessert, plagued by thirst, and found themselves before an elderly Texan couple, on whose land they stood. They pleaded the Americans for water and a rifle was drawn. Eusebio’s companion ran for his life and Eusbio was shot down from behind while fleeing. From here the documentary fleshes out Eusebio’s story with accounts from his mother, father and his numerous siblings who share memories of their fallen brother and give us a sense of where he came from and why he would make the journey.
Members of the U.S. Border patrol are interviewed and found to be surprisingly sympathetic toward the travelers they guard the border against. Less sympathetic, the vigilante border guards who’ve decided their government is not doing enough and with rifle in hand they watch over their small piece of the border. You hear from people who lived and worked with the gun man including his friend and Sheriff, the same officer who was called to arrest him. and his opinions about his guilt as well as his feelings on the justness of his punishment. And we also hear from Eusebio’s brother who took the news of his brother’s death as a challenge to make the same crossing himself. Now he works in construction and sends money home and remembers his brother and his jokes. Those who made the journey or attempted it contemplate whether the crossing is worth it, whether America is the land of plenty they imagined.
Having travelled via film from Honduras and Chiapas, through Mexico by train, across the Rio and through the desert, into America itself with these poor, tired travelers, will your opinions of the immigration debate be altered, re-affirmed? Whatever your take on the issue, I think everyone can benefit from the rare opportunity of hearing the voices of those the debate is centered on, not just the lawmakers and U.S. citizens who contribute to the debate. Whatever your opinion is, each of these films are excellent stories of individuals who take up a journey of which they have fear, perhaps not too much knowledge of the dangers waiting them and with hope for better things driving them on.
This blog is third in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Mojados: Through the Night
After I watched Which Way Home, I looked to see what other films we had on the subject. Mojados tells the story of three would be illegals attempting to cross the river and then the vast expanse of Texan dessert beyond. While they are also from the far South ends of North America, these travelers have at least enough resources to do without the hardship of balancing on top of a rocking train car and simply say good bye to their families before jumping in a taxi and heading north. They are dropped off in a nondescript area along the side of the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo. Then they hide in the bushes and wait for night fall and it is from that point that all their troubles begin.
At 64 minutes this is not a very lengthy documentary but I think it delivers a sense of what this portion of the journey entails. There is some criticism aimed at Tommy Davis, the director for not doing more to distinguish the characters from one another and for the jiggling hand held camera work. However, of the films described in this blog, it is in my opinion that the director of Mojados has gone through the most pain and effort to bring us the story of his subjects (Though I can’t say that without mentioning the two years of research spent with train travelers on the part of director Cary Fukunga or the time he invested with actual members of the much feared Mara Salvatrucha in preparation for Sin Nombre). Mr. Davis is actually making the journey with his subjects as we witness it. He is climbing the same fences, drinking the same bacteria infested water, eating the same molding tortillas and standing through the same freezing dessert nights afraid to sleep for fear of never seeing the sun again. Also included are interviews and accounts of some ranchers who pity the travelers but are also vexed with the damage done to fences and other effects of their passing.
Again, I don’t want to give away the fate of these travelers, but rest assured, the endings, inconclusive or unhappy, thoroughly illustrate the desperate act of crossing the border and the likely hood of survival.
Mojados: Through the Night
This blog is second in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Which Way Home
With Sin Nombre still fresh in mind I was pleased to come across Which Way Home while I was perusing the new releases in the Audio Visual department. This was a documentary about the real-life youths making the journey by train. Even more astounding than witnessing the same dangerous circumstances of riding “el tren,” now with actual lives at stake, was the extremely young age of those who rode it. “La Bestia,” the beast, this is the affectionate and fearful title given to their transport by the main figure, Kevin “El Gordo” or “Fatty.”
Kevin made this journey at the age of 14, making him the eldest among the children featured in the film. In fact, most of the children in this documentary are only around eight or nine years old. What a terrifying thought to think of my own child riding on top of a train all the way across the length of the Mexican territory. Some ran away from home. Some never had a home and some were sent by their families with hope they would arrive in America and be able to send money back home. The children laugh, make jokes and sing just like any other children. It is difficult not imagining a child you know of the same age making the journey.
I was very moved by two travelers in particular, Olga and Freddy, whose youth and innocence seems impossible in those surroundings. They are preoccupied with childish games but also worry about the dangers of their journey and sit awake through the night telling horror stories of what happens to those swept off the roof by a tree branch and between the cars below. When they talk about crossing the desert, as they must when they reach the end of the line, they have an air of bravado. They seem unconcerned with the warnings given by social workers who have volunteered to assist and inform the travelers in their crossings. However, although the situation is pitiful there is a lot of joy in the movie, thanks to the children.
The journey they share ends differently for all of them, and without saying too much, I can assure you that none of those endings is entirely unhappy, but it should be remembered that happy endings are not in store for all those who travel this way, perhaps they are even the exceptions to the rule.
Which Way Home
Recently I took in a series of four films that brought me witness to a 2,000 mile journey undertaken by over 160,000 hopeful men, women and children every year. They departed from El Salvador, Honduras and the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas, traversing hundreds of miles of open country while perilously perched atop a freight train, to the edge of the Rio Bravo/ Rio Grande and across to great expanses of Texan dessert, a portion of the journey which in itself would take four, five, maybe six days to cross. After this odyssey the travelers must be wary of immigration officers, conmen and thieves. Some came to support their families, some to be reunited with them. Perhaps they will find work. Others came to escape, from the law of their homelands, from its criminal elements, perhaps both. It was a fascinating journey as well as an emotional one. Along the way I was given a perspective of the immigration debate that is ignored more often than not. That being the experiences and hopes of the immigrants themselves, the individuals most involved in the debate, but who are heard from the least.
If that is a perspective that you might also be interested in, I urge you to check out these movies. Here’s the first in the series; watch for the rest later this week.
Sin Nombre (Nameless)
Sin Nombre is a fictional film about youths travelling across Mexico by train, illegally. There are many films that describe some of methods and also the dangers of crossing America’s southern border, but it was not until I had seen this film that I considered how a poor traveler, often as not coming from Mexican states that are distant from the border or maybe even they have come from countries further south such as Honduras or Guatemala, how does such a traveler cross the distance of Mexico itself. In this case it is the railway that provides a means of free travel, however for the young people in this movie hopping a train does not mean finding an empty box car and hiding until the iron house begins chugging down the rails. It seems that Mexican authorities have made the cars inaccessible leaving the migrants one option for a free ride, sitting on top of the railroad cars themselves. Without shelter from wind or rain, heat or the freezing nights they sit atop the cars, bouncing down the tracks and watching out for branches, bridges or other low obstacles that would brush a body right off of the train and under the steel wheels. There is constant danger of this. Someone must also stay awake through the night watching for obstacles. They are afraid to fall asleep for fear of falling off the cars or worse, between the cars. For people with no money and a strong desire to get closer to the U.S. border, this is sometimes seen as the only option.
The film itself is excellent. Two teenagers from two very different, yet neighboring homelands meet on the train traveling north. Sayra leaves her home life in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Willy or “El Casper” is from the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas. El Casper is hunted by his former gang members, whom he has offended and now he must keep a wary eye trained for members of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang which he had so recently considered to be his family. El Casper knows the train lines and though recognized by the other passengers as a gang member which keeps them at a careful distance, they also recognize the valuable resource he is in helping them not only in staying on the train without being spotted by bulls, or railroad guards, but also how to survive on top of the train. Sayra comes from Honduras travelling for far northern New Jersey to be reunited with her family. It is clear that Sayra is not a street survivor like El Casper .These differences in origin’s departed from, the relatively stable family life Sayra has left behind and the life threatening circumstances of Willy’s presence on the train illustrate the desperate and varied circumstances that drive someone to make the dangerous journey by train.
I actually saw 2001: a Space Odyssey for the first time at my public library when I was a young kid. My older brother said it was a classic and that we should go see it. I don't even know what format it was in, because I think this was pre-video, but I remember sitting on folding chairs with about five other people to watch it projected on a portable screen. I fell asleep during the beginning ape part, but managed to stay awake for the rest, once there started to be some dialogue. I can't remember many details about the movie, but you can't forget that soothing, but creepy HAL computer voice.
I was taken back to that day as I watched Duncan Jones' relatively new sci-fi movie Moon this past weekend. In Moon, astronaut Sam Bell is at the end of his three year contract with a company that harvests energy for the earth from the moon. All alone, except for a HAL like computer named GERTY, he monitors the harvesters and sends the energy to earth. On a routine trip to check on the harvester machines, he crashes and then things start to get interesting. Jones one ups HALs creepiness by having GERTY display a simple smiley face like image that changes to reflect the computer's "emotions" while it talks.
I'm not a huge sci-fi movie fan, but I loved the mood this movie created and the plot twist that got you thinking a little. Another movie I thought captured that great eerie space atmosphere was Solaris.
Free college education...that's exactly what these Great Courses DVDs are.
Our library has about 25 of these; type in "great courses" as a "series" search to find them all. To get the many, many more that are out there, get them through MelCat with your KPL card! That's how I get most of mine. Again, type "great courses" as a "series title" search. Or you could ask us to buy one.
They also come in audiobook format (CD and cassette), for listening in your car or on your ipod. I cannot express how happy I am that these exist, and that libraries like ours have them. Any person with a library card can really know a lot about a lot of different subjects, in much less time and effort than ever. Carnegie, the great philanthropist, thought of libraries as great equalizers, places where poor immigrants could "catch up." Imagine what he would think of these! The old idea of the "renaissance man" is in some ways more real. These are taught by world renown professors, exciting, understandable. Older people love watching these to learn new things, keep their mind sharp, and brush up on things. Pre-college students love watching them to get a head start on everybody else. I wish I knew about these when I was younger!
Free college education (without the degree of course) is catching on more and more. Universities like Yale and MIT have posted several of their courses online, for free. Academic Earth is the Hulu for such video lectures.
This hilarious and ultimately heartwarming documentary tells the story of the people responsible for the "so bad it's good" film Troll 2 and what has happened to them as the low budget horror film they were involved with in 1989 slowly turned into what is affectionately known as “the worst movie ever made” - a cult favorite with maniacal fans and Rocky Horror Picture Show like midnight showing parties. Written and directed by Michael Stephenson – who actually starred in Troll 2 as a child – Best Worst Movie’s main focus is George Hardy, the father in Troll 2, who is now a well loved general dentist living a quiet and happy life in a small Alabama town. The film examines the Troll 2 phenomenon and follows George and many of the other cast members, several who are clearly not as well adjusted as George appears to be, as they hit the Troll 2 circuit, engaging with rabid fans and soaking up the weird fame that they have in this realm. The film is well made, touching, funny, and above all entertaining. Even if you have never seen Troll 2 you will be a fan after viewing this great documentary.
Best Worst Movie
A typical romantic comedy, this formulaic story of a man digging a woman who has eyes for someone else is pretty predictable: they hook up in the end. Starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, this story highlights and reiterates what confuses us about the opposite sex, but what makes us so attracted to them at the same time. As Mike (Butler's character) says at one point, "Men are incapable of growth, change or progress. For men, self-improvement ends in toilet training". And Abby, in all her naive glory believes she will find a man who loves sunsets, cats, and red wine. While some reviews of this movie claim it demeans both Heigl and Butler, I found it a jovial diversion on a cold Michigan evening. The library has it in both DVD and Blu-ray versions for your viewing enjoyment!
The Ugly Truth
Now this is a good wholesome the entire family can enjoy movie. Secretariat. This is a Disney movie about the horse named Secretariat. It has many stars, Diane Lane and John Malkovich to name two. This movie had No swearing, No nudity, No guns or explosions (and I am a fan of explosions). It was just down to earth good entertainment and it was about a REAL horse who had an amazing racing life. The movie even had a cameo of the real life Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat. I highly recommend watching this movie. KPL has it on DVD and Blu Ray.
I had read some reviews that recommended the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, but by the time I got around to watching it, I had completely forgotten what it was about. It took me by storm. After watching the first fifteen minutes, I had to call my wife to come see it and then I had to call my teenage son.
The premise for the documentary is that an amateur filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, got really interested in the street art scene and used the line that he was making a documentary to get access to some of the world's most famous street artists, including the extremely private Banksy. When Banksy finally calls his bluff and tells him to make the film, the guy does a horrible job. Bansky decides to make his own film using Guetta's footage and encourages Guetta to do some of his own street art in the meantime. Guetta decides this is a good idea and becomes a overnight sensation using the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash.
If that sounds a little unbelievable, join the club of people who think the whole Thierry Guetta character is a hoax, used as a framework for Banksy to promote his work as well as others in the street art scene.
It doesn't really matter though, because the film is so much fun.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
In my previous post, I mentioned the film In the Mood for Love because of its lush and stylistic cinematography. Released in 2000 by acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai, the film takes place in Hong Kong in 1962. Two lonely neighbors are brought together over the fact that their spouses are engaged in an affair; and while they're committed to not duplicating the deceit by having their own tryst, a bond between them developes a unique intensity as they find solace in eachother's company. A film that resists cliche at every turn, In the Mood for Love is buttressed with strong acting performances and an amazing musical theme that evokes the anxiety and aching desire between these two characters as they grow closer with every masterfully shot frame. A truely original work of simplicity and beauty!
In the Mood for Love
There are certain films that are beautifully rendered and a joy to watch because of the way in which the cinematographer has chosen to use light or a certain kind of film that produces striking and dynamic images. Here are a few of my favorite films where color, light and shadows are as central to the end product as are the plot, characters or setting.
Days of Heaven
In the Mood for Love
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Thin Red Line
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Street Stops Here mixes dramatic tension, high-stakes basketball and the economic recession into a documentary film that packs an authentic, emotional punch. The film is a superb portrait of a small, Jersey City Catholic school (St. Anthony) under pressure financially to keep its doors open while the school’s storied basketball program and its inimitable coach Bob Hurley Sr. seek to win their 25th state title. Like the award-winning Hoop Dreams before it, The Street Stops Here depicts the lives of several key seniors, both their off the court struggles to transcend their disadvantaged upbringing as well as their struggle to win their first state championship, However, its Hurley, a former probation officer, who takes center stage throughout the film as the audience gains intimate access to his heavy-handed forms of discipline and tough love approach. A big thumbs up.
The Street Stops Here
In a recent article featured in Entertainment Weekly, the author suggested that certain films were far more likely than others to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, largely based on they’re being nominated for other awards. Many of the leading contenders are beginning to be released on DVD and available at the library. Here are some of the acclaimed films released in 2010 that have begun to trickle into the library that may well end up taking the award.
The Social Network
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story 3
The Kids Are All Right
Robert Rodriguez's new move Machete give you lots of explosions, shooting, blood, guts, gore and nifty outfits with a plot and big named actors. Dany Trejo; Steven Segal (as a bad guy), Robert De Niro, Lindsey Lohan and Jesica Alba. I watched this thinking OK let's watch some shooting and some explosions, but I was rewarded by it also having a watchable plot.
One of the most frequently asked questions that the Audiovisual Department receives is "what do you have that is good"? Since everyone's taste is a little bit different, we encourage patrons to let us know what film genres they enjoy most and make suggestions accordingly. We also refer patrons to helpful online resources that compile movie ratings and reviews. For current movie reviews, I like rottentomatoes.com and Metacritic and for the classics and critically acclaimed, check out the 1000 Best Films list as compiled by the New York Times.
Koko A Talking Gorilla