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Staff Picks: Movies

Justified

I've been binge-watching the series Justified of late. Born from a story by Elmore Leonard and starring actor Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), Justified's strength as a show is in the writing and the strong performances from Olyphant and the other cast members. It's not a show that possesses the kind of dramatic depth of The Wire, Mad Men or Orange is the New Black but what it lacks in narrative complexity and sociological dimension, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value. Set in the backwoods of Kentucky where organized crime and drug dealing is rampant, the straight-talking, quick-shooting U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens finds his commitment to law enforcement at odds with both his scheming father and the various drug-dealing factions that battle for turf in Harlan County.


Clouds of Sils Maria

The films of French director Olivier Assayas are incredibly varied and lack any kind of unifying style or theme. He’s tackled family dynamics with Summer Hours, romantic growing pains and revolutionary politics with Something in the Air, historical biography with Carlos, and biting satire with Irma Vep. His newest film, Clouds of Sils Maria, is a delightful exploration of personal anxieties confronted when art and life coalesce around an actress struggling to embrace time’s inescapability as she plunges into unsettling psychic and emotional territory. The fantastic Juliet Binoche nails the aging actress’ anxiety about returning to the play that launched her career. This time around, she’s cast as the older character, a woman she doesn’t feel that she can play with sincerity even as her young assistant, played by an excellent Kristin Stewart, encourages her to broaden her perspectives on both the play and in life. The title references the setting of the film, a bucolic location in the Alps where clouds slither about the mountain passes like a snake.


Liked That, Try This

It's another installment of Liked That, Try This, where we match movies with similar styles, themes, or intersecting approaches to movie-making. Here goes...

Domestic Dramas--

Liked The Royal Tenenbaums try Fanny and Alexander

Liked Late Spring try Yi Yi

Liked Savages try You Can Count on Me

Summer Romances--

Liked Summer with Monika try A Summer's Tale

American Literature--

Liked To Kill A Mocking Bird try The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Film Noir--

Liked Double Indemnity try The Killers

Liked The Third Man try Odd Man Out

Coming of Age--

Liked Boyhood try King of the Hill

Liked Fish Tank try L'enfance Nue

Liked Ratcatcher try The Long Day Closes

Science Fiction--

Liked Interstellar try Solaris


Soccer Stories

Fans of soccer/football will definitely want to check out the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Soccer Stories, a fascinating collection of eight short films detailing the rich history of the sport. The most notable of the films is titled Hillsborough, an investigation behind the the tragic death of over 90 people during a match in a British stadium. Not only does the film shine a light on the likely causes of the disaster but it also exposes the callous cover-up and myth-making led by the local police, tabloid media and political elites, all of whom placed the blame for the catastrophe on the fans.


Cycling

The Tour de France is off and running and if you’re a bicycling enthusiast you’ll you want to check out our collection of documentaries, including:

The Armstrong Lie
Slaying the Badger
Yell for Cadel
Hell on Wheels
Fixation
Bicycle Dreams: The Race Across America
Vive le Tour

For book readers, check out these titles


Stalker

One doesn't merely watch an Andrei Tarkovsky film, they experience them. They are haunting, enigmatic poems that explore the kinds of questions plumbed by philosophers and theologians. There is nothing commercial nor common place about these slowly paced, gorgeously shot works of art that eschew specific meanings while meditating on the nature of existence, memory and the immaterial. Even among his peers, his creative vision and technical prowess were considered unmatched in their power to evoke and mystify. His movie-making heroes acknowledged his greatness throughout his short life with Ingmar Bergman saying, "When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally."

Of his films, Stalker is my favorite and likely his most accessible for those unfamiliar with his style. The look of this film is almost indescribable. You simply have to see it to fully appreciate the level of artistry (all done without a Hollywood budget no less). Three men venture into the Zone, a quarantined area (ostensibly set in The Soviet Union) where a meteor had crashed. It has been rumored that the zone holds supernatural powers to grant individuals their special requests. A stalker, those who smuggle people into this no-go area, ventures deep into the heart of the unknown with two other characters, a writer and a professor, both of whom have different reasons for wanting to engage with the mysteries of the zone. Writer Geoff Dyer loved this film so much that he wrote an entire book about it called Zona.     


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Ana Lily Amirpour, the director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, describes her debut film as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western.” It’s the perfect description of this slowly paced, moody film in which a vampire roams the streets of Bad City, preying on its most unseemly citizens. I would guess that Amirpour has been heavily influenced by Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch, and though she’s still honing her director skills, I would recommend this film to fans of Jarmusch and Lynch.


An Iranian Masterpiece

Close-Up is a masterpiece of both poetry and philosophy. Movies like this don’t come around but a couple of times a decade and when this 1990 film was released in the West to much acclaim, it made its Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, an international star. It’s a tremendously moving film that mixes together fictional elements and scripted moments with real people playing versions of themselves as they reenact scenes from a bizarre, true event. 

Kiarostami's film functions as a meditation on cinema’s verisimilitude and its power to blur binaries like true/false and fiction/documentary. Viewers will find it difficult to parse out what is true and what was constructed by Kiaraostami because of the inventive way he threads artifice into a depiction of the actual event, infusing it with universal themes in a sympathetic way. One of the most beguiling, radically ingenious films of the last century, Close-Up is widely considered one of cinema’s most important in pushing the art form forward. 


Tootsie

Newly re-released as a Criterion Collection selection, fans of the 1982 cross-dressing comedy may want to revisit this Sydney Pollack directed classic that stars Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr, Bill Murray and Jessica Lange. On its surface, Tootsie is a warm-hearted story about a down on his luck actor who disguises himself as a woman in order to land a role on a soap opera. However, look a bit deeper and you’ll discover the poignancy and depth of a film that raised questions about society’s capacity to grapple with issues of gender, sexuality, identity and equality. At the film’s core are questions regarding gender roles and how they function socially and at the unconscious level of individuals and their relationships. The Criterion Collection version provides a wealth of interviews, an essay and short films detailing the making of the movie.


Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry for Eating the Cat

Kalamazoo is really fortunate to be home to an Alamo Drafthouse; they are one of the most prestigious theater chains in the world. As a massive film geek, I don’t spend my movie-going dollars anywhere else. One reason for this (beyond the strict no-talking, no-texting policy) is their penchant for bringing independent, foreign, and art-house films to Kalamazoo—ones that would never normally play in our mid-sized market. In fact, the Austin-based company has its very own distribution arm and, as you can imagine, they specialize in “provocative, visionary and artfully unusual films new and old from around the world” (their own words). Some of the many great movies found under the Drafthouse Films label include A Band Called Death, The Act of Killing, The Overnighters, A Field in England, and many more.

One recent favorite of theirs I saw was a creepy indie film called Spring that one promotional blurb perfectly referred to as “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft.” As a fan of both creators, this intrigued me. The story follows a young man who sets off to backpack around Europe after his mother dies and the rest of his life falls apart. In Italy, he begins a flirtation with an attractive-yet-aloof young woman, and the two spend a lot of time walking and talking around her scenic coastal village, much like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy did in Linklater’s Before Sunrise series. However, the woman is harboring a dark secret—one that evokes the primordial horror of Lovecraft tales, and one that may pose a threat to more than just their relationship. To say more would be to spoil, but I definitely recommend checking the film out if you’re looking for an unusual twist on two familiar genres. And be sure to check other Drafthouse Films, both here at KPL and at downtown’s Alamo Drafthouse location!