The 11th annual Teen Filmmaker Festival is fast approaching, and the entries are starting to arrive! As always, the Festival is looking for the best teen-produced and directed films. Every year, we get tons of amazing films from talented Michigan teens and we're super-excited to see what you'll come up with this year. Films are due January 18th, so don't delay- put the finishing touches on that masterpiece and send it to the Teen Services department ASAP! For more information, check out the Teen Filmmaker Festival page.
Teen Filmmaker Festival 2014
One of the things I love about Kalamazoo is the Kalamazoo Film Society. Every month for the past 25 years, this great organization has brought a film to Kalamazoo that would otherwise not have been shown locally. The Society recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with two classic films: Federico Fellini's Amarcord, and Ingmar Bergman's Wild strawberries. Those screenings, earlier this month, were the last at the KFS's long-time home, WMU's Little Theatre. Due to the switch to digital projection, and the lack of the necessary equipment at the Little Theatre, the KFS has entered into a partnership with the Alamo Drafthouse, and will continue bringing great movies to Kalamazoo.
One of the things I love about the Kalamazoo Public Library is that we seem to get everything the KFS shows, allowing me to catch up on anything I missed on the big screen. If you haven't seen every single movie they've brought to town over the years, you can find a list of what they've shown that we've got, which at 196 items as of this writing, covers over 16 years.
As rabid a film watcher as I am, time restrictions will forever thwart my capacity to plow through KPL’s stellar movie collection but here is an abbreviated list of some of my favorite films from KPL’s collection, watched over the past year. While we add new releases each week, don’t forget about the diversified depth of our collection. We can’t purchase every movie that is requested or inquired about but we can work toward the goal of having most titles for most of our patrons, most of the time.
Upstream Color: With the exception of the increasingly abstract, fragmented and non-linear narratives of Terrence Malick, there have been few notable American films over the past decade or so that have attempted to remake the kind of Eurocentric, anti-classical/realist/romantic films of the 1960’s and 70’s (think: Godard, Bresson, Tarr, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Warhol, Antonioni). With Upstream Color, a sort of Hiroshima Mon Amour for our contemporary times, one hopes that young filmmakers will continue to take the value of abstraction seriously, reimagining it in new and thoughtful ways.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A film that came out (pun intended) way ahead of its time. It’s kind of an absurdist musical that is in-your-face bonkers, but bonkers in the most vital, transgressive and beautifully rebellious way. A postmodern Hair.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a great performance as an unraveled mess of a person that attempts to transition from a life of boredom and narcissism toward a more complete, self-aware state where the adjective ‘young’ can finally wither away.
Sullivan’s Travels: I checked this film out because the great American director Preston Sturges’ name kept popping up in literature on director/writer Wes Anderson (a favorite of mine). This well-written and acted screwball comedy hits the mark and lives up to its acclaim as one of the 1940’s best films.
My Dinner with Andre: A film like few others--this conventions-busting mixture of fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and improvised riffing will either bore you into slumber or thrill you with its originality. We almost forget, due to the strong writing, that the great French autuer Louis Malle was its director.
Insignificance: I’m still not sure I ‘get’ this peculiar film but it was certainly compelling, the way in which a film can unfold as both an irritant and a puzzling enigma.
Hiroshima Mon Amour: Before I saw this Alain Resnais masterpiece about memory, love and loss, I considered Harold and Maude my favorite film. Now it’s number two.
12 Angry Men: Watch this fictional, court room drama and then the documentary The Central Park Five. The very notion of facts, evidence, justice and human objectivity are brilliantly rendered as a hollow collection of outdated concepts with tragic application.
Hunger: Not to be mistaken with Steve McQueen’s first film about the imprisonment of IRA soldiers of the same name but rather the nimble and haunting adaptation of the classic, existential novella by Danish writer Knut Hamsun.
Summer with Monika: Arguably, my favorite film of Bergman’s but nowhere near his best. That distinction belongs to his magnum opus Scenes from a Marriage, a film that should only be approached by the single and the happily married couple.
Rules of the Game: My goal for movie watching this year was to view a handful of those classics considered important to the historical development of the art form according to the Sight and Sound Magazine’s list of 250 Greatest Films; a list created every ten years by an esteemed cadre of critics. Renoir’s masterpiece (rated at No. 4) is there for a reason and its influence can be seen in almost every film made since 1939 that skewers the vacuity of the rich and clueless.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil: Made by maverick film essayist Chris Marker, these two films are quite distinct from one another in both content and style. Both represent the best in avant-garde, envelope-pushing cinema that emerged parallel with the various manifestations of the European New Wave movement.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: This 70’s cult classic by Peter Weir still holds up as a truly original film that tackles the subject of loss, regret and repressed longing, all of which are tied to a mystery that leaves an Australian women’s school in shock and confusion.
Other notable films: L’ Avventura, Stroszek, Bringing Up Baby, Amarcord, The Killing, Neighboring Sounds, Damnation, The Lives of Others, Magnificent Ambersons, Harvey, Pat and Mike, The Third Man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Searchers, Elevator to the Gallows, As I Lay Dying, Cleo from 5 to 7, Frances Ha, The Silence, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blast of Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Argo, Shallow Grave, Band of Outsiders, Fanny and Alexander, Mud, Harry and Tonto, Chasing Ice, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
When the film begins the warning label for Getaway with Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke says Mayhem throughout and indeed there is. Basically Ethan Hawke has to drive Selena Gomez’s armored Shelby GT500 car around town and crash into everything especially police cars. Pretty much there was a crash or explosion every 5 minutes throughout the movie. So who cares what the plot is, cars crash and explosions happened. There is a plot but really it is secondary to crashes, Ethan’s wife is kidnapped and Ethan, an ex race car driver is forced to drive what turns out to be Selena Gomez’s car which is now outfitted with cameras so the bad guy can watch and listen to the occupants. Selena’s dad runs the bank the bad guy is trying to rob. He gets Ethan to cause accidents at strategic points to block traffic and then the bad guy makes his move. You have to let go of logic and just sit back and enjoy but 2 things still bugged me. Ethan is driving an armored car and yet he is scared of bad guys on motor bikes. Just wiggle your car and knock into them, motor bikes are notorious for falling down. The second point was when Selena Gomez “reprograms” the cameras by grabbing one and rotating its lens back and forth and voila it is now a live feed to the police. She is that good. For this movie, turn up your sound especially your bass, turn off your logic and sit back and enjoy.
The new documentary film Room 237 may have only limited appeal but if you love Stanley Kubrick’s movies (Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, The Killing, 2000: A Space Odyssey), especially his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, then this is a must-see film. Structured as an introduction to the many provocative theories about The Shining and its meaning, viewers hear (but never shown) several die-hard fans meticulously outline what they think the film is about and what Kubrick was attempting to express. Those interested in Kubrick’s controversial version (Stephen King hated it) conspiracy theories will love the film and the way it depicts both the intellectual limits of critical semiotics and deconstruction as well as the depth of passion and obsession invested in such a project. Was it really a deeply coded criticism of the genocide of the American Indian or could it have been a winking apology for Kubrick’s participation in the faking of the moon landing and c’mon, what’s up with those cans of Calumet baking soda? If anything, the film proves that art and an artist’s intentions can be interpreted in a number of ways, often resulting with comical conclusions but it also serves as a celebration of theory as an intellectual exercise in deepening our capacity to think more dynamically and critically about the power of messaging and the coding of media.
Arguably, one of Canada’s greatest films, Mon Oncle Antoine is a coming of age tale set in rural Quebec. Beautifully shot and with wonderful acting, it's an unsentimental portrait of young people caught up in a confusing and hostile adult world, where youthful innocence is shattered and when growing up means experiencing complex realities. The film is set in the 1940’s as a small mining town prepares for Christmas celebrations. But unlike most holiday films that purposefully avoid seriousness and genuine pathos, Claude Jutra’s film tenderly addresses the subject of adolescent awakenings under the specter of sex and death. This 1971 film was Jutra’s masterpiece and a brilliant film that captures both the goodness in people as well as their human failings. Read a film essay about the film here.
Mon oncle antoine
Usually I am disappointed with Cuba Gooding Jr. movies. Maybe I lowered my expectations or maybe this is a good movie, you watch and decide. The Ticking Clock is about a true crime reporter becoming involved in a murder. When Lewis Hicks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) girlfriend, or maybe better said the woman he is seeing while he is separated from his wife, is murdered. Lewis chases the guy and in a scuffle the murderer drops his journal. When Lewis reads the journal there are entries for more murders to take place in the future. Keech (Neal McDonough) is our murderer and he makes a good one. Lewis is not liked by the police as he has written negative things about them in previous articles so they are not very willing to help him. Everything keeps pointing to a 9 year old boy in an orphanage who is interested in science and time machines. Keech is that grown up boy and is traveling back in time murdering people thinking that he can change things and make his future better. He murders his abusive mother but instead of making things right he is now raised by his aunt and she is worse. Lewis investigates and finds this boy at the orphanage and visits him, takes him to the zoo, is tempted to smother the boy with a pillow and change the future. I think my problem with Cuba Gooding Jr. is his face. He has a face for stern, or mad or thinking and it is the same face. His smiling face is a little different.
A groundbreaking documentary when first released in 1968, this Albert and David Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) production follows the emotional up’s and down’s of a group of door-to-door salesman who are charged with the peddling of a gold embossed version of the Good Book. Each of these real life Willy Loman’s has a nickname (The Rabbit, The Gipper, The Bull) which adds an element of fictive artifice, but what the Maysles brothers are really after, is to paint a psychological portrait of the inner turmoil these men feel as they grind their way through each pitch, expressing frustration (at both each other and their customers), skepticism toward the future of their profession and in some cases, a celebratory belief in the power of their vocation. Funny, heartbreaking and myth-busting, Salesman is an American classic of cinema verite.
The great movie directors have always shown an interest in exploring the subject of growing up and the themes of adolescent awakening, rites of passage and the sometimes complex depiction of individuals straddling both adulthood and childhood. As many different kinds of filmmakers as there are, so to have these kinds of movies been varied, both in terms of genre, point of view and style. Childhood it would appear from some of the beloved films that have been inspired by the subject, is messy, complicated and rendered as a darn right miserable experience.
Youth’s opposite condition, the aging process and growing old has also been explored with both tenderness and horror. Sometimes depicted with gritty realism, other times with romantic sentimentality, many of these films examine the way that the elderly either flourish by growing open to new and different ideas about what it means to live or in some cases, investigate the many difficulties that the elderly are confronted with. Here is a brief list of some of the great films that tackle the subject of both youth and the elderly with intelligence, artfulness and humanity.
Harry and Tonto
Harold and Maude
Away from Her
On Golden Pond
The Up Series
The Straight Story
Murmur of the Heart
My Life as a Dog
Mon Oncle Antoine
Stand by Me
Kid with a Bike
Spirit of the Beehive
The Ice Storm
Harry and Tonto
Cult film Blast of Silence (1961), which seemingly came out of nowhere in the early nineties after years of existing amidst a fog of cinematic obscurity, is a blast of style, kinetic energy and unsentimental nihilism. It's a low budget but artistically rendered and edited gem of a film that follows the life of an increasingly conflicted, paid hit man trying to get out of the business even as he preps for his next pay day during the holiday season. Frankie ‘Baby Face’ Bono stalks his New York City target with machine-like precision while at the same time becoming emotionally interested in an old friend’s sister. Made on a shoe-string budget, Allen Baron’s taut thriller perfectly encapsulates the look and feel of similar films of that era connected to the independent film movement of the late 50’s and early 1960’s.
Blast of Silence
The less I say about the BBC America thriller Orphan Black, probably the better. Full of suspense, the show centers around Sarah, a drug-dealing petty criminal who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a mystery when she sees a woman jump in front of a subway train. The thing is, the woman looks like her—and not just a little bit, but exactly like her. Sarah then embarks on a journey to find out who the dead woman is and ends up questioning her own story. The plot is fascinating and always surprising; there are no red herrings here. As details unfold, perspectives change but nothing is thrown in just as a ploy to lead the audience astray (a sign of a good mystery if you ask me). Tatiana Maslany, the star of the show, does an excellent job playing multiple, demanding roles that would not work in the hands of a less talented actress. Orphan Black will definitely make it onto my “best of 2013” list.
The great films from the silent era to today have always addressed the significant, universal themes and truths that lie at the core of human experience. There may be no better film made about the end of life and the instinctive response to look back on one’s dreams, laments, regrets, and accomplishments while standing upon the precipice than Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is a close second). More than a somber piece of cinema about an unremarkable everyman’s last days, Ikiru (meaning “to live”) is a life affirming and poetic masterpiece that beautifully portrays our main character’s search for meaning as he learns he has a terminal disease.
Kanji Watanabe, a government employee who nobody seems to know or respect, agonizes over the belief that he has not lived a full life of importance and it’s this doubt that drives him forward to engage his fleeting days with a fierce purpose. For like so many, the presence of the end animates what it means to be alive. Kurosawa uses his immense directorial talents to bring this theme alive in fresh and unique ways. Fans of Kurosawa’s samurai movies may be surprised at the heartbreaking tenderness that he exhibits in this, his most endearing and humane film that explores life’s preciousness through one man’s death.
Sleepwalk with me is about a comedian who has REM disorder disease. Matt is a comedian who is currently working as a bartender and Abby is his girlfriend. They go to his sister’s engagement party and his parents and friends are putting pressure on him to get married. His sister had been seeing her guy for only two and half hears while Matt has been with Abby for eight years His girlfriend is great, can sing, people love her. I think one of the telling lines is when Matt tells his sister everyone thinks Abby is amazing; mom and dad think she is amazing, our friends think she is amazing. I think everyone thinks the best thing about my life is my girlfriend. Matt is not ready for marriage and the pressure causes him to sleepwalk. At his parent’s house during a sleep walking episode he thinks the hamper is a jackal and he is kicking it. Matt gets an agent and she sends him on some comedy gigs. They are scattered about the east coast and involve a lot of driving and time away from home. He becomes exhausted and the sleep walking episodes get worse. His comedy, however, gets better. At one comedy club a veteran comedian talks with him off stage and Matt makes a joke about marriage. The veteran says that’s funny you should use it in your show. Matt’s comedy gets funnier as he jokes with the audience about marriage, making fun of it. One night Abby comes home at 4 am very drunk and starts to pack a suitcase, Matt wants her to stay and agrees to get married in the summer. As we watch Abby plan for the wedding and Matt touring and doing his comedy act we see his sleepwalking progress until finally he thinks a missile is coming at him (signifying the upcoming wedding) and he jumps out of a second story window. This is a deadpan humor type of story; the most humorous parts are his sleepwalking dreams. It’s a real type of story, real issues, real struggles, real relationship problems, with comedy sprinkled in especially in the sleepwalking dreams.
Sleepwalk with Me
The Loving Story is just that, a documentary tale of two people bound by an uncompromising commitment to one another, fighting against injustice and hatred. Marriage equality isn’t only a contemporary legal issue that’s being struggled over in state and federal courts today but one that goes back many years and in this particularly precedent-setting case, begins in 1958, when two Virginians married in Washington D.C., neither aware of a Virginia law that criminalized interracial marriages. Our loving couple, Mildred and Richard Loving were subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Wanting to continue to live in Virginia, the couple decided to fight this legal bigotry by challenging their convictions as well as the the very law that was designed to oppress Virginian blacks and codify social and economic segregation. Supported by two brash and youthful attorneys, the Loving’s fought their way to the United States Supreme Court and won in 1967. This is their remarkable story.
The Loving Story
The recently released documentary film Chasing Ice is the story of one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists tackling the subject of global warming by documenting the retreat and loss of glacial ice in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana due to climate change. This documentary, full of breathtaking images of both sublime beauty and environmental degradation introduces us to the passionate photographer James Balog, who with his team of scientists, techies, climbing experts and field guides set out to document the physical evidence of global warming by setting up cameras in multiple locations to film a particular landscape in order to archive the changes. The dramatic effects of global warming are clearly evident as Balog returns to each site several times a year to make sure the cameras are functioning properly and to review the effects upon the glaciers. The film highlights the emotional up’s and down’s and natural obstacles to such an endeavor but what really is the most striking feature of the film is the awe-inspiring magnificence of the arctic landscapes.
One’s take away from writer/director Sarah Polley’s brilliant, semi-autobiographical Stories We Tell may be that the film is about family dynamics and the complex secrets they often keep hidden. But what the film is really about is the way in which our lives are like stories, often interpreted and consumed differently by various actors involved within the circle of a particular narrative. The 'truth' about Sarah's origins becomes increasingly unstable as memories (some of which may be unreliable) of the past highlight the relativistic and nuanced nature of individual perspectives and experiences. Everyone's take on Sarah's mother is bit different, which is to say, she struggled to conform to any singular mold or characterization. The film works very much like Tim O’brien’s masterful fictional memoir The Things They Carried, a novel set in the Vietnam War but a book concerned primarily with the importance of storytelling as a way of understanding splintered, de-centered realities. It’s a wonderful film and one of the best of the year.
Stories We Tell
By the mid 1950’s Katharine Hepburn had solidified herself as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and so with few limitations regarding her career trajectory or concerns regarding box office success, she took on roles that were less about making money and more as vehicles to work with some of the best directors of that time. Summertime, a film that most movie fans don’t immediately recognize as one of her signature movies, is a wonderful tale of doomed romance along the Venetian canals. Directed by legendary British auteur David Lean (A Brief Encounter, Bridge On the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia), Summertime finds Hepburn in a role that has her playing an emotionally lonely yet headstrong and independent secretary, enjoying her dream vacation in Venice when romance comes her way in the form of a smooth-talking shop owner. Shot in vibrant Technicolor, Lean shows off Venice as a beautiful city full of life and history. The city becomes a character onto itself. It’s a film about living in the moment and embracing the vitality of experience.
Be sure to check out the romantic comedy Cherry, which we’ve recently acquired here at the library. The story follows a college freshman named Aaron who falls for an older woman he meets at school. Things get complicated when the woman’s 14-year-old daughter develops a crush on Aaron. Age becomes a challenging factor in both relationships, but they all manage to learn valuable life lessons before the credits roll. The movie itself is an enjoyable watch, but the real reason you’ll want to catch it is that the 2010 film was shot right here in Kalamazoo. Throughout the film you can catch glimpses of locations at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College, various downtown storefronts, and on recognizable streets like Kalamazoo Avenue and Rose Street. Although, there should have been a really awesome public library in there somewhere…
After watching the Academy Award winning film (Best Foreign Language Film) Amour, a film of tremendous emotional intensity and tenderness, I needed to view a film that took me away into a fantasy world comprised of silly hijinks, screwball comedy and that starred classic Hollywood actors. I found that film in the classic 1938 comedy, Bringing Up Baby, a hilarious romp of absurdity and folly that was the perfect antithesis to Amour’s touching but grim story of the final weeks of an elderly couple’s marriage. Both pictures represent the best and breadth of the library’s film collection, one that has a little bit of everything.
The newest film from maverick filmmaker Terrence Malick will move even the most seasoned movie-watcher with its sheer, lyrical beauty yet will likely confound and annoy those who require a clear, comprehensible and linear plot with a standard amount of dialogue. I love Malick's uncompromised films and yet To the Wonder left me scratching my head at why he's become so drawn to the removal of storytelling and dramatic complexity. It isn’t so much that there is no plot but rather that the story is so utterly stale that one may find its shallow pretenses cause to hit the ‘stop’ button before the 20 minute mark. The voiceover, a device that Malick uses in all of his pictures, is pointless prattle and does little to expand our understanding of the motivations and feelings at the core of the four primary characters, all of whom simply wander about as handsome ciphers. These inadequacies alone would sink most films but of course Malick is one of the giants of cinema and therefore is afforded a bit of leeway given his uncompromising commitment to making films without concern for audience expectations or commercial success (that I really do appreciate). I applaud his integrity while at the same time feel a bit cheated at what could have been. The wondrous imagery that Malick is known for is truly magnificent. His films have always been painterly and romantic, lush and poetic but there’s nothing of human complexity or dimension beneath the endlessly vacuous imagery of glowing sunsets, hands grazing tall grass and beautiful actors behaving foolishly. Give it a try. You may find To the Wonder pointless or transcendent or even both.
To the wonder
56 Up is the eighth and latest installment in the British documentary Up series. Began in 1964 and airing every seven years, audiences have followed a select group of seven year old children from 1964 to now with the expressed intent to examine British class structure and its power to determine one’s life. We the viewers are allowed access to the personal up’s and down’s of a participant’s life story, including a quick summation of their life as it was and as it is now. The interviews probe the typical subject matter such as married life, employment, children, health and various laments, grievances and successes. Viewers won’t be mesmerized by anything unconventional, extraordinary or surprising. Most of the children have grown up to live relatively banal, middle class lives even as they’ve likely felt a certain pressure as living subjects within an entertainment/sociological experiment.
In The Apparition four college kids perform an experiment trying to recreate the Charles experiment from the 1970s, only this time they want to manifest the spirit into this world. They have a figurine of Charles that they concentrate on and with the help of computers magnify their concentration from 4 to 4,000 and it works. The table shakes, the figurine is smashed, lights flash and Lydia is sucked through a wall. I thought ok the spirit is here but the movie fades out and we meet Ben, one of the original four apparently a few years/months (not sure which) later with his girlfriend, Kelly. They are house sitting for her parents in a housing development which is mostly vacant, a good setting for a spirit to haunt. Ben checks his email and has numerous messages from Patrick his old buddy from the experiment. Patrick is played by Tom Felton who was Draco in the Harry Potter series. Patrick has sent message after message increasing in urgency saying Ben is in danger. Kelly is taking a shower and we see spirit stuff. The soap goes all fungus looking and the real horror, all of Kelly’s clothes which are hanging in the closet are tied in knots. We are then treated to a lot of convincing spirit in the house sounds, they did a good job with this part. Ben finds out that Patrick has reopened the rift and a spirit wants into our world. They think they can send it back by playing the sounds from the original experiment backwards. This reminded me of my youth when they thought there were satanic messages on a vinyl record if you played it in reverse. I think the movie plot pushed the recreate experiment too far. First they recreate the 1970s, ok that’s a good premise, but then they leave it and allude to recreating the recreation and this time the spirit is unleashed, the rift was widened. It was big enough to suck Lydia through the first time and what happened to Lydia, we hear nothing more of her. Ben and Patrick set up their equipment, we see a diagram of the house and all the devices sync up, Patrick amplifies, we hear the sound track played in reverse, the spirit makes sounds, the house cracks, this is one big spirit and then nothing… I thought it was an anti-climactic ridding of the spirit. But that was because (spoiler alert) the spirit is not really gone. I liked the build-up to the spirit coming and the sound effects but one recreation was enough. Give it a watch sometime, especially at night, preferable when it is stormy and you are alone.
Wiener Dog Nationals is a cute children movie. We have a family with a mother who has died recently but not that recent, like 2 years ago. So we have a father raising 3 children; one is 18 and the other 2 are like boy age 8 and girl age 6. The boy discovers a picture of his mother as a child with a wiener dog (dachshund) and she used to race the dog and win trophies. Nowhere in this movie do we hear anyone say dachshund it is always Wiener dog, just like the title of the movie. For his birthday he wishes for a wiener dog. He names it Shelly because he got it from a shelter. He and his sister are in a fast food place and there is a girl signing up people for the Wiener dog races, what are the odds. Morgan Fairchild is a rich lady who plays dirty tricks to try and eliminate Shelly from competing in the race. She has won for the past 2 years. The movie is your typical child movie, Morgan Fairchild is shown doing nasty things and being rude so you hate her. The boy with the dog is nice and friendly with the other contestants especially a dog called handshake who can do one trick, bet you can’t guess what it is, yep Shake Hands. His owner is a girl of about 8 same age as the boy. The dad meets and falls in love with the girl (Alicia Witt) who was signing up people for the race. Shelly wins Nationals. Happiness reigns for all in the end. Two things that did bug me about this movie, when cleaning up from the birthday, the dad tosses the left over cake into a garbage bag. Who does that, you keep the cake and have more of it later. The second was more of a continuity issue. Shelly hurts her paw. They show her raising her right front paw as if it is hurt but they bandage the right rear paw. I even rewound to make sure I saw the correct paw. But hey, I wasn’t watching this for accuracy just for a good time. It’s cute, if you have children or just like these movies Check it out at KPL.
Wiener Dog Nationals
At the behest of a friend I began watching the tv series Scandal a couple weeks ago, and was quickly drawn into the world of crisis management firm Olivia Pope and Associates. Pope is a 'fixer'- she and her team get their clients, Washington's elite and well-connected, out of sticky situations in order to protect the clients' public reputations. Most episodes follow a case that Pope and her team must handle, but what I love most about the show are the story arcs involving Pope and her associates: these characters are flawed, and they all have their own secrets to protect. Season two's crazy plot twists will definitely have me tuning in for season three in October!
Legendary White Stallions. If you like looking as talented gorgeous horses then give this DVD a perusal. This is a DVD about the legendary Lipizzaners. It talks about their training and their breeding and shows them in action and in the country side. Some of these quotes will give you a feel for the DVD. The Director of the Spanish Riding School says “Classic Horse riding is pure Beauty and Harmony” The Rider is the artist and the Horse is the medium” Now, while I agree with his statement and love seeing these horses, I thought that he, the Director of the Spanish Riding School looked like Prince Charles. Ok, back to serious, this is an informative and also beautiful DVD of the Lipizzaners. They are the horses of legends. Another quote “It’s Teamwork, it is as if there was a gossamer thread between the riders and the horses mind.” This is a visually powerful and educational DVD of a legendary horse. It is a wondrous photography of the Lipizzaners. Check it out, give it a watch and be enthralled and educated.
Legendary White Stallions
Famously shy and reclusive writer/director Terrence Malick burst into the spotlight with his extraordinary debut Badlands (1973), a classic of American filmmaking starring a young Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. The library has recently picked up the expanded and refurbished Criterion Collection edition which features recollections from the two actors and the art director. Fans of Malick’s impressionistic and painterly films (The Thin Red Line, Tree of Life, Days of Heaven, The New World) will certainly want to see this version in all of its restored vibrancy. After watching this amazing film, loosely based on the Charles Starkweather murders of the late 1950’s, I’ve attempted to come up with a short list of significant directorial debut films that we currently have in our collection.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
The Night of the Hunter
A Bout De Souffle (Breathless)
Knife in the Water
Killer of Sheep
The 400 Blows
The Sorcerer and the White Snake is gorgeous. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, the underwater visuals are amazing. This is a story of True Love. The demon white snake falls in love with a human. All sorts of problems arise from this but she never regrets it because she now knows true love. The White snake said she meditated once for a thousand years but just a moment with Xu Xian (the human she is in love with) was worth more. This was a great story of love based on a Chinese legend, but the best part was the visuals. It was one breathtaking scene after another. As I have a snake phobia, I wish it wasn’t a White Snake but when they are that big they look more like a sea serpent than a snake so it wasn’t too bad, only at the end did they send in the little snakes. Jet Li is the monk and he does do a lot of action. But even the fighting scenes are overpowered by the visual effects. When Xu Xian is under water the details of the plant life and the fish was spectacular. When the White Snake flooded the town and summoned the waters, it gripped you and the music swelled and you were carried away. While the story is of White Snake and her True Love with a human it also displayed the sister love between White Snake and Green Snake. When White Snake was dying Green Snake offered her life’s essence to her sister. It is a foreign film and you will have to read the subtitles but it is the visual effects that will blow you away. A fun part was the monks apprentice turning into a bat demon and the animated mice were delightful.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Can a film be at once a tender, macabre, oddball slice of campy surrealism with a heart? Few have treaded these idiosyncratic waters of exotic eccentricity better than Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Brand upon the Brain, his feature film from 2008 represents Maddin at his most mainstream, which is not to suggest that the film is going to be embraced by more than a few devotees. But if you’re willing to open your mind up to Maddin’s semi-autobiographical story about a lighthouse that serves as both an orphanage and the setting for mad, scientific experiments, you’ll be rewarded with an enchanting tale of bold, cinematic weirdness.
Brand upon the Brain
Life Is Sweet (1990) solidified British director Mike Leigh’s place as one of the United Kingdom’s most important director/writers. He has since gone on to make several other classic films (Naked, Career Girls, Another Year, Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky) that explore the darkly twisted world of British working and middle-class life, mixing together black humor with social critique that rarely comes across as contemptuous or mocking. His humane and sympathetic depictions of the shadowy and grim aspects of life are easier to digest because of his deft touch for highlighting the absurd. Leigh’s gift for creating quirky characters out of relatively mundane stories about everyday life is at the heart of many of his films. Life Is Sweet perfectly illustrates this vision, where the grotesque, odd and cruel are wedded to the jovial, loving and poignant. Be prepared to watch with subtitles given the thick accents and quick deliveries of the dialogue.
Life is sweet
The BBC’s stylish and entertaining series The Hour has been compared to Mad Men, in large part because of the approximate time period (mid 1950’s) the show is set and because of the copious amount of drinking and smoking that characters indulge in. Aside from those superficial comparisons, The Hour tackles mid-century, hot-button political issues through the prism of an hour-long, topical news program (think early 60 Minutes) run by young, idealistic journalists who inevitably butt heads with both their own management as well as the political establishment. What makes the series really tick is the element of mystery that emerges to provide a bit of tension and noir to this excellent, two-season drama.
Described as a film about “everything and nothing”, Yi Yi (Translation: A One and a Two) is writer/director Edward Yang’s moving, slice of life portrait about the up’s and down’s, beginnings and endings, laments and celebrations of a middle-class Taiwanese family. Centered on N.J. and his family, Yang depicts the magical moments in life by juxtaposing them against a backdrop of the mundane. The film begins by showing us a wedding and then quickly cuts to N.J.’s mother-in-law’s failing health, stressing the overlapping and sometimes paradoxical nature of life’s imperfect unfolding. Yang expertly evokes the poetry of the everyday, urban experience in all of its messy dynamics, showing us the beautiful interplay between humor, tragedy, romance and ritual from the perspective of the three primary characters, the father, teenage daughter and the eight year-old son.
There are many times in life when we take an action that cannot be undone, and in so doing, head down one fork in the road, never to possibly return to the other path again. I was struck, watching Chely Wright, Wish Me Away, how real that is when someone comes out. Ms. Wright, popular country music singer-songwriter, CMA winner, was raised in a conservative God-fearing home and community. As a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a country music star and she determined to work heart and soul to reach that goal. At the same time, she recognized her crushes on girls and prayed that God would help her somehow overcome her feelings, that God wouldn’t let her be gay.
The documentary incorporates interviews with primary people in Wright’s life (family members, other creative collaborators, people from her hometown,) heart-wrenching homemade videos created by Wright during some of her most despairing moments, plus footage of Wright meeting with her spiritual advisor and, later, her publicist.
Wright’s coming-out process was exquisitely choreographed. The release of her autobiographical book, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, this movie and numerous public interviews (with Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and others) were all scheduled to happen one real close together, for maximum exposure. In one interview, Rosie O’Donnell bluntly states: “You’re out, honey….You’re out all day. You’re out forever!”
Chely Wright, Wish Me Away
Learning of James Gandolfini's untimely passing, my thoughts turned not to his iconic role as Tony Soprano, but his recent performance in Sopranos creator David Chase's directorial film debut, Not Fade Away, one of the most honest and under-rated movies ever made about rock and roll. Though seeing Gandolfini as a New Jersey businessman, struggling to keep peace in his suburban home with his wife and children, stirs up memories of his better-known TV family man, his film father and TV father lead quite different lives.
Set in the 1960's, the film's focus is on his son, a budding musician who gives up his college education, funded by his father and an ROTC scholarship, as his rock and roll outfit, heavily influenced by the blues-based Rolling Stones, gains increasing local popularity, which leads all the members to believe they can make it to the big-time, despite the many ego clashes and professional miscalculations that derail their journey. (If this sounds a bit like the plot of That Thing You Do, be aware that the dramatic tone of Not Fade Away is much heavier, and, to me, much more realistic. The heightened realism is aided, in no small part, by the soundtrack chosen by the film's music director, Steve Van Zandt.)
All the storied culture clashes that accompanied the '60's rock revolution are on display here in their most intimate manifestations, most poignantly in the relationship between father and son. Gandolfini's character wants his son to take the career direction originally agreed upon, but as his son's ambitions grow, and his parental norms can no longer be reconciled with his son's evolving belief systems, he comes to accept the break instead of denying it, which helps to mend their strained relationship. Such sweetness is not the Soprano way.
An especially close dinner conversation between father and son in the film's third act, as well as a scene late in the film where the father bids a farewell to his son that may or may not be final, pack an emotional wallop that hit even harder now in the wake of Gandolfini's passing. Thankfully, we have this film, among many others (not to mention the now-legendary TV series), to keep his screen presence from ever fading away.
Not Fade Away
The Trouble with the Curve is about an aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout, Clint Eastwood, who uses his experience and gut to pick a player vs. the modern way with computers. Clint Eastwood is a cantankerous man who loves baseball, misses his dead wife and has a love but leave me alone relationship with his daughter, Amy Adams. They convey all this to us in the first few minutes, by showing Clint Eastwood home alone, stumbling into a coffee table and kicking it out of the way and, my favorite, getting a can of spam and eating directly out of the can. (Side note, shortly after seeing this I bought a can of spam. I did not eat it directly out of the can mainly, because my wife is still alive and would not let me, but I did dump it out on to a plate and cut off a hunk and ate it raw, after first verifying that it is fully cooked.)
Philip is one of the new upcoming modern computer wise scouts with ambition and is trying to push Clint Eastwood out of the way. The movie centers around the scouting of a likely looking baseball player in North Carolina; do the Braves sign him, do the Red Socks, is he a good pick? OK, so now let’s add in some other things. Clint Eastwood is losing is eyesight, Amy Adams is his lawyer daughter and lets spice it up, Justin Timberlake is a scout for the Red Socks and likes Amy Adams.
You do not have to know about baseball to like this movie but if you do it probably enhances it for you. Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake have drinking contest about past players and infamous plays. Personally, I did not know who or what they were talking about but still enjoyed their competition, drink if you do not know. I wasn’t drinking Justin and Amy were.
The movie gets its name from a type of pitch, The Curve, they also call it the change up unless I got that confused with one of those other pitches. Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood see Bo Gentry as having a major flaw in that he cannot hit a curve ball, hence the title of the movie. They talk about Bo hitching and his hand drifting. I have no idea what that means but you do not have to, Clint Eastwood knows and it is this personal seeing with his own eyes, hearing the clink of the bat that makes him a better scout than the computer. There was one part of the movie that I can relate to on a personal level, there is a batter who is up just before Bo Gentry and Gentry says get a hit so he, Gentry, can get up to hit. This poor little scrawny, glasses wearing guy is now praying to God to get him on base. He gets hit with the ball and gets to walk to his base. On his way he is saying to God, perhaps you misinterpreted my request. This part of the movie, while not in any way the major thrust of the movie, hit home for me. How many times was I up to bat and said the same prayer and sadly it was in Softball (which for those who do not know, is a bigger ball and as its name implies softer). You rarely get to take your base for getting hit by a softball. My prayer was broader than this guy’s, he wanted to get on base thus preserving Gentry’s ups. My prayer was just let me hit it, I did not care where it went just let me hit it.
Clint Eastwood is struggling to hang on to being useful, more than that, to being independent. He is getting older, computers are encroaching in on him, his eyesight is failing. Amy Adams sacrifices her promotion, her boyfriend, in order to be with her dad and help him. Ok so did you get the gist of this movie, it involves baseball but it is more than a movie about baseball, it is a movie about family love, old age, scum who try to push you out of the way and about what is really important in life. And hey if that is not enough for you, then watch Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams both are cute as a button.
The Trouble with the Curve
Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) is one of the most moving dramas you’ll ever see about the intersecting tension between social norms, generational conflict and familial love, a theme that the great Japanese director masterfully explored with a fierce intelligence and a tender poetry in his post-war films. Late Spring is the story of a daughter who is so dedicated to her father’s well-being that she eschews her family’s urging to marry. At the age of 27 and unmarried, her single status is deemed a problem to be solved by her loving father, persistent aunt, and cynical best friend. Why marry for the sake of fulfilling an outdated social tradition that isn’t necessarily a guarantee for happiness in modern Japan she argues. While her thoughtful and understanding father may agree with such an argument, there exists few options for her future that don’t include either an arranged marriage or one born out of romantic love. Each character is so richly rendered and conceived that antagonists are excluded altogether. Everyone seems to have a legitimate point of view which is a quality that highlights the respectful and sympathetic nature of Ozu’s grasp of character. Highly recommended viewing. For a clip go here.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to be just a Head. You could not move your arms of your legs. The Intouchables is a story about such a man and his caregiver. Philippe is a French aristocrat who has a great life until his wife gets a disease and dies and Philippe who was always into high adventure, goes paragliding and crashes. He crushed his 3rd and 4th vertebrae and is now a quadriplegic. The movie is about the relationship of Philippe and Driss. Philippe is interviewing numerous caregivers, they all have great credentials and PHDs. Driss is applying because in order to draw is benefit (unemployment check) he need to show he is actively looking for a job, he has no real desire to have this job. He talks to Philippe in an off hand manner, “don’t get up”. Philippe likes him because he doesn’t treat Philippe as an invalid. Driss is offered and takes the job. We are given glimpses into what Philippe has to do every day. Massages for the arms and legs, strapped in a chair so he doesn’t fall out, turning pages with a stick in his mouth. Driss asks him if he ever thought of just shooting himself. Philippe says yes but I cannot move my arms or legs so I am stuck. Luckily for Philippe he is rich. He says the Doctors can keep him alive until he is 70. Philippe introduces Driss to the arts, and music, Bach etc. Driss also shows Philippe what he considers good music Earth, Wind and Fire. Driss is a kid from the streets. He introduces Philippe to smoking marijuana to help with the pain. When Philippe has to travel they go the van and Driss says no way is he loading Philippe in the back of the van like a horse, he puts him in the front seat of a muscle car and roars down the road. This is a story of a developing friendship. This movie is foreign and in French so if you do not understand French, you could take a crash course on our Rocket Language lessons, free if you have a library card or for this you could turn on the subtitles. The thing that really touched me is that this is a true story. At the end of the movie they show the people that this movie was based on.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to be just a Head
If I had to choose my top film for 2013 today, it would surely be Mark Cousins’ epic series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a serious film connoisseur’s dream documentary that covers the history of film from its 19th century origins up through the present. Cousins, never timid to express his own attitude toward the nature of both the economics and politics of the film industry, weaves the technical, cultural and artistic evolution of movie making through the lens of both that of an erudite chronicler, passionate critic, and corrective revisionist. He summarizes the development of movies as both an art form and as a business enterprise. He deconstructs established myths and ‘official’ accounts of film’s development while respectfully pointing to the shortcomings of conventional perspectives on the canon. His thick Scottish/Irish brogue may be too derisive an element for some viewers to overcome but overall (the project is obviously too personal for Cousins to have employed another narrator), Cousins’ work will for some time constitute the benchmark for others to follow.
Cousins navigates the viewer through the decades, styles, genres, technical innovations and regional characteristics of the major epicenters of movie-making (Hollywood, France, the Soviet Union, Sweden, Japan, and Italy) introducing us to both American films emanating from the Hollywood star machine as well as those less acknowledged masterpieces made throughout the Asian, Latin and African world. The strength of Cousins’ view, that the story of film up until now has been one of exclusion and omission, arises from his ability to present an international collection of seminal directors and films, showing how these works and the talented minds behind their production arose parallel to more celebrated works of the Western world. Much of this history has been driven by the tension and balance between art, commerce and ideas, which Cousins explores throughout the series with great attention to detail and with obvious affection for the subject. The usual suspects are all here, including, Thomas Edison, Sergei Eisenstein, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Howard Hawkes, John Ford, Jean-Luc Godard, Fredrico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Steven Spielberg as well as lesser known directors like Hind Rostom in Bab.Al-Hadid, Abel Gance, Erich von Stroheim, George Albert Smith, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Lynne Ramsay. Cineaphiles rejoice, your love letter to movies has been made.
The Story of film: an odyssey
Paul Newman starred as a dynamic antihero in several movie classics throughout his long career like The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Texan novelist Larry McMurtry has had many of his works adapted to the big screen and television including Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show. In 1963 the two came together for the making of Hud, one of Newman’s greatest performances. Newman plays Hud Bannon, the bad son who ruins everything he touches, including the bumpy relationship between his moralistic and principled father, his impressionable nephew Lon and the housekeeper Alma, wonderfully played by Patricia Neal. When not carousing with married women, Hud engages in drunken brawls and tension-filled conversations with his father about the future of the family ranch. Newman is brilliant at playing the hard-living, self-absorbed son who perceives situations only in terms of selfish opportunism. Directed by Martin Ritt (Norma Rae, Sounder, Hombre, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), Hud still stands up as a subject-rich, gritty, family drama set amongst the austere landscape of Texas.
I still remember the feeling. I was living in Washington, D.C. It was my first time living in the big city as an adult. I missed the woods, the countryside, the quiet calm of my hometown in the Midwest. That D.C. summer was so hot. When you stepped outside, you felt like you were instantly encased in Saran Wrap, so cloying was the humidity. My roommates and I didn’t have air conditioning, so we sought relief at the movies.
I lost myself for two hours, watching a group of boys frolic through the woods, narrowly escape a speeding train and a vicious dog, discover another boy’s body. I could feel the cool of the green forest and the pull of childhood summers. When we left the movie theater, I was shocked by the brightness and the return of the feel of Saran Wrap. I was so immersed in Stand by Me that, at first, I didn’t remember where I was!
Great movies can do that to you.
With Memorial Day around the corner, here are some movies, set in summer (or at least a good chunk of it,) to help you celebrate the season’s ‘unofficial’ start:
Red Hook Summer
The Magic of Belle Isle
A River Runs through It
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1 and 2)
Clifford the Big Red Dog. Dog Days of Summer (and other family titles)
Stand by Me
The new documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns (The Central Park Five) is an outrage-inducing expose of the insidious injustice carried out upon five New York City teenagers in 1989. The story begins with the brutal attack of a jogger in Central Park. From there, the police department and prosecutors seek out those that they could label as the perpetrators, not the actual rapist. The evidence would suggest that investigators were neither interested in justice nor the truth about who was responsible for the vicious crime. The city explodes in racist condemnation of the teen suspects with much of the media and political class trying the case in the court of public opinion and tabloid. This is a must-watch film that should be shown in every classroom across this country.
The Central Park Five
The Man with the Iron Fists was a pretty cool Chinese martial arts movie with plenty of action. I was surprised to see Russell Crowe in this movie but they gave him a knife that spins and shoots bullets. Jungle Village has several warring clans. The Governor trusts Gold Lion to protect a shipment of Gold. Well, Gold Lion did not live long, he was killed by one of his own lieutenant’s, Silver Lion. Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) arrives, he is the Emperor’s undercover agent. He comes into the Pink Blossom brothel run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), requests a room overlooking the street and 3 of the women, one of whom is currently with Crazy Hippo. Jack warns Crazy Hippo to give up the woman and not fight him then promptly knives him with his spinning knife. This isn’t a serious martial arts movie and it seems like they had fun with it. Later in the movie when Jack shoots someone with his knife he says I bring a gun to a knife fight. It’s funnier in the movie that it sounds here. There is a blacksmith played by Rza who also wrote the story, screenplay and directed the movie. He is the one who gets the Iron Fists. There is a mercenary named Brass Body. I think he was the most formidable person. His whole body turns into brass and nothing can hurt him, until the end of the movie and Iron Fists does him in. The movie has a lot of action and the basic plot is guard the gold, gold gets stolen, gold gets back to Emperor but the enjoyment of the movie is watching everyone go martial arts on everyone.
Man with the Iron Fist
End of Watch is a movie shot in documentary style of two police officers in the south central Los Angeles area. It gives you a good insight and feel for Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavela (Michael Pena) as partners. A lot of the movie is the two of them in the locker room, in the squad room or in the car, talking about everything with each other. It really shows you the bond the two of them have. The movie also has many moments of gripping action. Mike says that they see more action in one shift than some officers will see in their entire lifetime. Some police can go their entire career without drawing their gun but not in southern Los Angeles.
Brian is making a film so he is always filming with his camera and he and Mike are wearing button cameras. This gives us the feeling of being part of the action. There is a Latino gang that ironically is also filming and we see them inside their van gearing up for action. They are talking about hitting Tre and his fellow Bloods gang. We see them getting their guns together and a we see them drive by the Bloods and start firing their AK47s and hand guns, hundreds of bullets are fired and then off they drive. Our officers find the burnt out husk of the van dumped. Brian would like to be a detective but as he is a uniformed officer the homicide detectives shoo him away and tell him to stay on the other side of the crime tape. Next we watch the officers respond to a missing children call, only to find a man and a woman obviously high and not in their right mind. The woman is saying her children are missing, the man is saying they are at their grandmas. Brian searches the house and finds the children duct taped in the closet. This is to give us a feel of what their watch is like. Later they pull over a truck and the driver tries to shoot Michael with an ornate looking pistol. They search the truck and find oodles of cash and what looks like a gold plated AK47. Our next adventure is when Brian and Michael are at a house fire and they risk their lives to rescue a bunch of small children. This section of the movie was very powerful and definitely had you on the edge of the seat of your chair, you could almost feel the fire and have a hard time breathing due to the smoke. They are awarded medals and accolades from their fellow officers. Brian, who wants to be a detective, decides to dig deeper into the driver with the ornate gun. He convinces his partner to back him up and they go to the house where the truck came from and they find a room full of human trafficking people. Suddenly there are many ICE agents descending and they tell Brian and Michael to lay low as there may be reprisals.
Now we go back to the personal side of life and Michael’s wife has a baby. Then back to driving around in the squad car talking about the baby when a call comes in to help two officers. When they arrive they find one of the officers with a knife sticking out of his eyeball in his head, and his partner is getting beat on. They get the huge hulk of a man off the female officer but her whole head is caved in and is a misshapen bloody mess. This gives you a feel for the harshness of the streets. There are more personal moments and of course a reprisal happens with a hit put out on Brian and Michael.
This movie has a lot of action, and gives you insight into the life of a police officer. This was modeled after two real live police officers. I think that gave me the most scare. This is not just a movie, this stuff really happens. This movie is not for the faint of heart and there is a lot of use of the foul language to give you the realness of the gangs.
End of Watch
When I started watching John Dies at the End I knew it was science fiction and that it was different. I wasn’t really ready for how different it was. It was a real Mind Tripper. And even though I had talked about this movie with our resident movie expert at KPL, Dan, I was not ready for the girl to turn into a bunch of snakes. Dan did not forewarn me about that and he knows I have a phobia about snakes. I was scurrying to grab the remote control and fast forward not carrying what dialog I missed. If you are not bothered by snakes this movie has it fair share of bugs and other disgusting looking creatures. John and some others are enticed by a drug called Soy Sauce which we find is linked to an alternate reality’s world attempt to take over our world. Dave is John’s best friend and it is up to the two of them to stop the invasion. Time travel is involved, Dave is constantly getting calls from future John. The movie has a lot of action, then seems to stop for dialog period where Dave is talking to a reporter or the police or John on the phone then it jumps back into action and people explode or have their head blown off by a shotgun and then set on fire and they may or may not die. I would say that Dave and John are pretty laid back dudes, not much frazzles them. When pieces of meat from the freezer start coming together to form a meat monster they take it in stride, tell it to hang on a second while they make a phone call. They then hand the phone to the monster who takes it and he listens and then falls all apart, end of monster. This is a movie for adults not children and it is for adults who are willing to just be entertained and not try to point out the flaws in the time travel and are ok with someone finding their cut off head, putting it back on and fastening it with fishing line then looking for the guy who cut off his head.
John Dies at the End
I love Morgan Freeman. He has a way of talking. Like when he is teaching the dog to fetch a ball. Morgan Freeman throws it and the dog just lays there. He says “Maybe it’s the word Fetch that doesn’t resonant perhaps retrieve will stimulate some long dormant instinct” or when he is invited to a seven year olds party he says “I greatly appreciate being included in your celebratory plans and I will be sure to mark that special day on my calendar.” In this movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman) is a writer of western novels whose wife died seven years ago and with her passing he gave up writing. We see him arrive at the island brought there by his nephew. Monte is in a wheel chair a bit cantankerous and drinking heavily. He moves in next door to Charlotte O’Neil (Virginia Madsen) and her three daughters. The middle daughter, Finnegan asks Monte to teach her how to use her imagination. Monte becomes her mentor. As time passes, Monte develops a fondness for the O’Neils and they of him. The plot is predicable but who cares, you get a warm feeling of happiness from this movie and that’s all that matters. Monte does write some a story or two, but not a western. It’s about an elephant, the youngest girl loves elephants. Through the story of the elephant Monte lets Charlotte know that he likes her and for those of us too dense to figure it out Charlotte while reading the story says I think he likes me. Monte is invited over for dinner and Charlotte plays the piano. Monte comments that for playing like that he would leave his windows open. Later in the movie when Luke and Joe are trying to buy the rights to the books to make a movie we hear piano playing. Monte tells Luke and Joe that the music is for him and it’s personal so they have to go. Monte lies in bed listening to the music and dreams of sipping wine with Charlotte and dancing by moonlight. He is awakened by the dog licking his face. I don’t think it will spoil anything to let you know that the dog eventually does fetch a ball. They show that very comically. Monte tosses the ball and the dog heads in the exact opposite direction. Monte says “I admire consistency” then the dog shows up with the ball. This could be a Hallmark movie of the week. I loved it mostly because of Morgan Freeman and his portrayal of Monte Wildhorn. Give it a watch some time when you want a warm fuzzy.
The Magic of Belle Isle
The Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was on many end-of-the-year polls of best movies. It’s a slow burning film about a murder and the men who venture into the dark of night charged with locating the deceased’s body. The viewer already knows who did it. The murderer sits between two police officers in the back of a car that traverses the Turkish countryside. It’s actually not about the murder at all but rather about the interior lives of its varied cast of characters. It’s a film about what goes unsaid, that which is communicated only by silence and the elapse of time. It’s a film about a single night and the complicated pasts of men living in a moment.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
This is one of those feel good Disney movies; The Odd Life of Timothy Green. A couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) are told by a fertility doctor that they cannot have children. While feeling sorry about the news they have some wine and make a list of all the things their child would be if they could have one. He would be good at drawing, score the winning goal in soccer etc. They take this list and put it in a very nice wooden box (this shows the depth of their grief, this looked like an expensive box) and bury it in the garden. That night there is a thunder storm, even though the town is in a drought, and this thunder storm only occurs at their house. Timothy Green a 10 year old boy appears in their house covered in mud. At first they think he ran away from home but Timothy calls them mom and dad and he has leaves growing out of his legs. They check the garden and indeed the spot where they put the box has been disturb. This boy must have come from that box and is destined to be their son. OK we are over that hurdle, now to tell the story of Timothy Green and all the wonderful things he does, and how he makes people’s lives he touches better. It is a cute story, it delves into father son relationships and parenting, hopes for your children all that gooey stuff. But it does it in a way that keeps you entertained. That being said I do have two comments. The first is that even if one comes up with a better way to make a pencil you cannot just say the plant is saved all your jobs are secured. You would have to retool the plant, and make sure there is a market place for said pencil, and personally from looking at it, I would not want to write with it. However it does tie in nicely the leaves on Timothy’s legs with the leaves to make the pencil. My other comment is when Timothy draws Cindy’s boss’ picture and includes the chin hairs. Cindy says Timothy is very honest and outspoken. Mrs. Crudstaff, a very stuffy and stern lady, asks what else has Cindy not told her. Cindy bolstered by Timothy’s actions proceeds to tell Mrs. Crudstaff her honest opinion, that Mrs. Crustaff could be nicer, that her one joke is not funny and that they need to open the curtains to let in light so people can see the objects in the Pencil museum. I thought this was going to be one of those hallmark moments and Cindy gets a raise or at least high praise but nope, she got fired. I liked that twist to what I thought would happen. This is a good family movie, you should give it a watch.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
It’s pretty easy to argue that movie expert Roger Ebert was America’s First Film Critic, in the sense that he was the country’s most well-known and respected reviewer of cinema. Ebert passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer. Ebert and the late Gene Siskel introduced millions of Americans to thoughtful conversations about both commercial and artistic-oriented films with their Saturday afternoon television show that aired from the mid 1980’s until Siskel’s death in 1999. Ebert’s brilliant reviews, many of which are collected in numerous books, are an excellent starting point for the novice fan of film to introduce themselves to the treasure trove of great movies. Ebert was known for his superb prose, much of which eschewed jargon and obtuse forms of critical theory. He also had a keen ability to criticize films he found intellectually stupefying or devoid of purpose with a biting sense of humor, some of which can be found below.
“The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.”
“Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.”
“Dice Rules is one of the most appalling movies I have ever seen. It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him. The fact that Clay apparently thinks this movie is worth seeing is revealing and sad, indicating that he not only lacks a sense of humor, but also ordinary human decency.”
“Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve. This is the kind of movie that gives even its defenders fits of desperation. Consider my friend James Berardinelli, the best of the Web-based critics. No doubt 10 days of oxygen deprivation at the Sundance Film Festival helped inspire his three-star review, in which he reports optimistically, ‘Saving Silverman has its share of pratfalls and slapstick moments, but there’s almost no flatulence.’ Here’s a critical rule of thumb: You know you’re in trouble when you’re reduced to praising a movie for its absence of fart jokes, and have to add ‘almost.’”
And one of his most famous disses concerns Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It "is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."
I learned a few things from the movie Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key. If you are an 8 year old boy and get moved to a new town, that is a good time to bamboozle your parents into getting a dog and if they say yes to one dog then they will for sure allow you a second dog. I also learned that if you have a maniacal evil plan then you should laugh about it with your partner in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde sort of way. One more thing I learned, if you want to show your audience that your character is a bad dude, have him take candy from a baby. Trooper is a bloodhound and he narrates the story. Due to budget cuts, by the bad guy of course, Trooper can no longer be a police dog. Luckily a boy has just moved into town and is able to have his family adopt the dog. The evil bad guy is trying to shut down the local bookstore so he can put in an oil well that will make him rich. He tells the bookstore owner that she owes back taxes for 25 years and has to come up with a million dollars. The boy learns of this and also hears about a recently deceased man who may have left a treasure in his house. Trooper and the boy discover the Legend of the Golden Key which is worth a million dollars (coincidence?). This was a nice little just watch the movie and don’t worry about the facts. I was a bit fixated that the book store owner just accepted that she owed a million dollars. This is after all, a children’s movie.
Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key
Federico Fellini’s most well-known film and a classic of Italian cinema, 8 and 1/2 continues to stand-up as a trailblazing film that introduced viewers in 1963 to an overly self-conscious form of storytelling that mixes fiction, memoir and dreamy surrealism together as a prophetic statement about the nature of celebrity, the mass media and the pressure to create art even when uninspired. Self-referential, wildly imaginative and irreverent, this classic film points the finger at the film industry and increasingly aggressive media while humorously mocking the hollowness of fame. Poking fun at both himself and his critics (both Catholics and Communists), Fellini delights in highlighting the absurdity and emotional alienation of those forced into positions of creating successful commerce while their personal life grows increasingly dysfunctional. See a trailer here.
8 and 1/2
I am just smitten with Call the Midwife. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, this BBC-produced series takes us back to the beginning of Worth’s career as a nurse-midwife in east end London during the post-war 1950s. We see her first arrive at Nonnatus House, where she and several other midwives minister to the varying social and health needs of their patients and families.
Jessica Raine portrays Jenny as kind, caring, and extremely sheltered. She knows naught from personal experience of bug infestations, dealing with the complications of syphilis, the desperation that drives 15-year old girls into prostitution. Over time, she shows her grit, combined with deep compassion, to become a fine midwife.
Still, it’s Nurse Camilla Fortescue Chumley Browne (Miranda Hart,) better known as ‘Chummy,’ who steals the show for me. When we first see her, she quips, “pa used to say ‘long dogs need short names.’” As she struggles to build her nursing skills, wrestles to learn bike riding (their primary form of transportation to their patients,) and overcome Sister Evangelina’s obvious disdain, she grabs the funniest lines and breathtaking moments.
Though based in the ‘50s, the show doesn’t lack for graphic intensity. You’ll see live births and hear the raw, honest language of the EastEnders. Set aside several hours, so you can watch without pause. Fortunately for all of us, the next season is on order and in our catalog, so we can place our holds now!
Call the Midwife
Normally when the character of Veronica Mars calls for backup, she’s summoning Backup, the intimidating canine that accompanies her when she’s heading into a dangerous situation—which, as a sharp-witted, young-adult private investigator in the fictional town of Neptune, California, she often is. But last week, Mars called for backup from a different source: fans of the much-loved, short-lived eponymous television program on which she originated. On April 13th, Veronica Mars the television show—which went off the air in 2007 after a mere three seasons—made headlines when its creator, Rob Thomas (no, not that one), and star, Kristen Bell, launched a Kickstarter project that would fund a feature film, giving new life to a cult classic and furthering the adventures of one of TV’s most beloved heroines.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s a website where motivated folks can announce projects for which they want to raise money—films, music albums, business ventures, etc.—and the general public can contribute donations, usually for some sort of tiered reward. Creators set financial goals and have a limited amount of time (30 or 60 days) to reach them. If they hit their mark, they get all the money they’ve raised to that point; if they fail, they get nothing. The “Veronica Mars Movie Project” set the highest goal in Kickstarter history: they needed to raise two million dollars in 30 days. They did it in 11 hours, becoming the fastest project on the site to hit that amount of money. As of this writing, the project has raised nearly $3.7 million—well over its goal.
If you’ve seen Veronica Mars, there’s a good chance you loved it enough to kick in a few shekels (as I assuredly did). If you haven’t watched the show, then now’s a good time to jump in head-first! Here’s the basic premise: Veronica is a high-school (later, college) student who moonlights as a private investigator for her detective father, Keith. He was once the town sheriff, but was removed from office in disgrace after accusing a local billionaire of killing his own daughter, who was Veronica’s best friend. This made both father and daughter unpopular around town. In each episode, Veronica tackles a mystery, while also investigating a season-long crime. Despite the fact that it never caught on with a large audience, VM developed a strong cult following thanks to its loveable characters, strong plots, clever writing, and hilariously quotable dialogue. So check out the DVDs of all three seasons—you won’t regret it.
While End of Watch’s storyline doesn’t break new ground (Cops vs Drug Cartel) in terms of fresh subject matter, the affecting bond between the two LAPD officers and the remarkable performances delivered by the actors Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal are enough to recommend this gritty, police drama, written by David Ayer (Training Day). See a trailer here.
End of Watch
One of last year’s most electrifying documentaries, The Imposter will leave an indelible mark, if only to remind you how entertaining (and ultimately sad) the interplay between fact and fiction, truth and fantasy can be when linked to a thriller of a story. One cannot describe this film without spoiling much of the suspense but viewers are likely to be both scratching their heads and muttering such things as “really?”, “no way!”, and “are people really that stupid and gullible?” How does a missing 13 year old boy from Texas mysteriously reappear in southern Spain, claiming he’d been kidnapped by military personnel, tortured and sold into slavery, convince the boy’s family and government officials that he is in fact the missing teen? Well, the answer to that and much more will likely leave your head spinning as you consider the subjects’ motivation and capacity to deceive. Fans of the runaway hit Catfish will find a great deal in The Imposter to like. View the trailer here.
In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, be sure to stop in and check out some of the many films that we own that feature the Emerald Isle. We have biographies, history, travel, documentaries and feature length films that highlight the rich and vibrant culture of Ireland.
The Quiet Man
Rattle and Hum
Beckett on Film
The Swell Season
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
My Left Foot
Rick Steves' Ireland & Scotland
A Love Divided
The Butcher Boy
If you like sweet and charming dramas with a pinch of humor, may I suggest the film Liberal Arts. How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor wrote, directed and starred in this film about an increasingly disaffected thirty-something suffering from a bad case of nostalgia for his college days after he finds himself stuck in an emotional rut. After being asked by one of his former college professors (Richard Jenkins) to come back to his Ohio alma mater to attend a retirement dinner, Jesse realizes how much he misses the excitement, innocence and idealism of being nineteen, intellectually hungry and feeling optimistic. Such euphoria leads him to Zibby, a classical music-loving sophomore co-ed (Elizabeth Olsen) who is talented, precocious and drawn to Jesse’s enthusiastic love of books and because he's not the typical college boy she's interested in. As their relationship develops, the issue of their age gap comes into play while Jesse’s former professor struggles with his own anxiety about his post-employment future. Liberal Arts is definitely sappy in places and oozes with maudlin marrow but if you can get past some of the movie’s weaker elements, you’ll find the core of the story’s message about aging with grace relatively well-intended and affecting.
Mary and Max was captivating. It reminded me of the Wallace and Gromit movies. It is a clay animation and makes no effort to make it’s people look life like which I think adds to the movie. The humor is odd and you will either love it or not get it. It is a story of a little girl 8 years old in Australia and a 40 year old pen pal in New York City. The little girl, Mary, is lonely and gets picked on at school. She has a birth mark on her forehead the color of Poo. Her pen pal suggests telling the bully that it is the color of chocolate and that when she gets to heaven she will be in charge of the chocolate and he will not get any. The bully upon being told this, cries. Her dad has a job at the Tea factory tying the strings from the tea bag to the label for Earl Grey tea. Mary thinks she would love to mary someone named Earl Grey some day. Her mother cooks with Sherry and as Mary puts it she is wobbly most of the day. When Mary’s teacher says Mary needs to smile more, her mother gets out her lipstick and draws a smile on Mary’s face. One day at the Post Office she sees a telephone book for New York City, she describes it as a telephone book with a picture of a lady on it with her hand on fire. Mary opens the book and chooses a name at random and writes a letter. The letter was to Max. Max is a nice guy but has a whole host of problems. We find out that he has been in a mental hospital and is subject to anxiety attacks, and has trouble reading people. He has a sketch book he made of people’s faces so he can tell by referring to the book if they are happy or mad or sad. We find later that he has Asperger’s syndrome. Max likes being an Aspie as he calls it and even has a t-shirt with Aspie on it. Max has no friends but he does have a gold fish, Henry the eighth, which later is Henry the ninth etc. as accidents keep happening to the little gold fish. This is a movie you have to see to appreciate.
Mary and Max
Another Oscar season has come to a close, and it was quite a successful one at that. There were very few upsets or surprises, which helped this movie geek dominate his Oscar pool, getting 21 out of 24 correct – a tie for my all-time best. The Academy made up for snubbing director Ben Affleck by awarding Best Picture to the well-deserved Argo. The visually-stunning Life of Pi took home the most of the night with four, including one for director Ang Lee, who managed to turn what many felt was an unfilmable book into a crowd-pleaser. Skyfall became the first James Bond film to win an Oscar since 1965’s Thunderball. Lincoln ’s Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person ever to win Best Actor three times. And Pixar’s Brave just beat out the video-game-themed Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature, which is ironic considering poor Ralph spends his entire movie trying to win a trophy just so people will love him. You’ve earned top score from me, Ralph.
If you’re behind in your Oscar viewing, a handful of these award-winners are available for home viewing now, right here at the Kalamazoo Public Library:
Several of the Oscar winners are coming soon, and you can place a hold on them now:
Check back for the availability of Silver Linings Playbook, winner of Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence); Les Misérables, winner of Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Mixing; and Amour, winner of Best Foreign Film. The release dates of these films will probably be announced soon.
So what did you think of the Oscars? What were you glad to see win? Which categories would you have preferred to go differently? What was your favorite film of 2012?
The Grey is about a plane crash in the Alaska wilderness and the survivors being hunted by wolves. Ottway (Liam) is hired to protect the pipeline guys. They show him shoot a wolf right in the beginning of the movie, thus establishing him as a good shot with a rifle and their defender. I thought The Grey was going to be all about Liam Neeson protecting the survivors of the plane crash and indeed it was but no gun. I guess if he had a gun it would have been too easy. The movie starts out showing the men working on the pipeline, Ottway shoots the wolf then we are in their bar at the base camp and we get sort of introduced to the characters. Then it’s off to the plane and pretty much right away the plane crashes and the movie gets going with its major thrust of surviving the wolves. I mean the movie is called The Grey. Liam organizes the remaining men, a wolf attacks, Liam tells all the men about wolves and that they will hunt in a certain radius of their den etc. thus setting up the rest of the movie. These wolves are HUGE, more the size of a black bear and they are very organized. There is a scene where the men are sitting around the fire and they hear the noise of two wolves in the trees. They say what was that? Liam tells them that was the Alpha male putting down the challenger. Then Diaz, one of the men around the fire, challenges Liam. Why are you in charge? Diaz pulls a knife and wants to fight. Liam, of course, stomps on a fire log, disorients Diaz and beats him. So just like the alpha wolf putting down the challenger so does our human male. Another time they are all around the camp fire and all the wolves start howling. Apparently it sounded real enough that my little puppy perked up and listened and started growling at the television. In a touching moving emotional part of the movie they are all telling stories and Liam recites a poem his dad wrote: “Once more into the Fray. In to the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day” Which reflected what was happening, each day the wolves attacked and killed another survivor. This is a good movie to watch when the snow is blowing and it is cold outside.
Can you imagine your wife has a brain injury and does not remember being married to you. That's the premise of the movie "The Vow" and it is based on a real live wife who had a brain injury and forgot her husband. She never did get her memory back, but she is still married and has two children. The movie has a car crash causing the brain injury and then to keep us interested tosses in issues with in-laws, a bit of infidelity, and old flame who she does remember. Rachael McAdams plays Paige the wife of Leo played by Channing Tatum ( and yes he does take off his shirt showing his magnificently sculpted abs) . The movie starts off with the car crash and the hospital scene, then does a flashback to show us how much in love they were. I thought they did a good job with her waking up and seeing Leo for the first time. She assumes he is her doctor, a very reasonable thought. Paige has lost the last 4 years, and in her mind she was still in law school, and engaged to Jeremy, not an artist and married to Leo. The movie unravels for us the tale of why she left law school and ditched her fiancé Jeremy. Leo faced with having a wife who does not remember him at all, tries to spark her memory, failing to make that happen he tries to re woo her and make her fall in love with him all over again. Paige's parents want to control Paige and take her back to their home and try to mold her back into the person they want her to be. This is a good romantic movie, a good one to watch with your special someone.
Every wonder what happened to Cliff from Cheers? Well, he is working as a barber in a small village outside of Las Vegas. John Ratzenberger (Cliff) is in a movie called “The Village Barbershop” along with Shelly Cole. His name in this movie is Art and Art is not doing well. His wife, the love of his life, has passed on and now his fellow barber and co-owner has also died. Art is in debt, the landlord want to kick him out as he has not paid his rent. Art advertises for a replacement barber and after seeing an assortment of odd applicants, along comes Gloria. Gloria has recently found herself to be pregnant and her boyfriend just told her he has found someone else and they are getting married. Art does not want to hire a female barber but as she also can do bookkeeping he hires her to do his books, something his partner used to do. Gloria of course wheedles her way into being Art’s partner partly by winning him over with her charm and partly by threatening to sue for gender discrimination. The movie is one of those Hallmark type movies. We see Gloria and Art grow on each other, start to care for each other and help each other overcome life’s difficulties.
The Village Barbershop
Lovely Still. Robert Malone (Martin Landau) meets Mary (Ellen Burstyn), who looks great for being 76 years old at the time this movie was made. Robert comes home from working at the grocery store to find Mary in his house. She says she was checking on him, to make sure he was all right as his car was crashed into his garage. Mary then asks him out on a date. Robert is ecstatic and in love. They go on horse drawn carriage rides, romantic walks, and even sled riding. There is also an undercurrent. Mary’s daughter Alex (Elizabeth Banks) keeps cautioning her mother to not get hurt emotionally. We see Mary with a pill bottle that she drops in the sink. Every morning just before Roberts alarm goes off we see his dreams, multi colored dreams with vague shapes in the background. When he is with Mary these dreams go away. At times I was wondering is Mary real? Her name is Mary and it is a Christmas tale. Will Mary die? This is what appears to be a Hallmark story of love for old people and is named as such Lovely Still but it has something else going on. I was thinking this was going to be just a Hallmark love story when it took a twist and I have said too much already. Watch this when you are feeling a need for a heart tug, an emotional warming, a tale of true love.
HOME is a different type of movie, maybe because it is French. The movie starts out by trying to show how this family is a nice family unit, brother gets along with sisters, everybody is happy. They happen to live next to a section of highway that was never opened. They live the idyllic life or do they? Maybe they live this idyllic life because there are no obstacles. When they open up the highway and hundreds of cars are going past their home, their life crumbles. The oldest daughter likes to sunbathe and when the highway opens up, truckers honk their horns and cars beep. One day the family notices the daughter is gone. No Note, No Message. Nothing. Do they panic, do they call the police, do they think she was abducted, NO. They think oh well, she was probably picked up and moved on. Maybe it's because they are French but to me, if this was a real idyllic life, the daughter would not have taken flight without notice. The family then tries to continue to live next to the highway. Next to it mind you, not near. They are smack dab against the guard rails. They do not even have an access to their house. They have to park on the other side of the highway and try and get across when the traffic is light or go a mile up and cross through the water drain that runs under the highway. When the constant noise gets to them, they wall up the home with cinder blocks and noise deadening material. Of course then they have no ventilation nor sunlight and that brings it own set of problems. I'm sure this movie is fraught with hidden meanings and undertones that can be studied at length in some college classroom. To me it was sad and frustrating. I kept urging them to move, or get a lawyer or something but no they walled up the home with cinder blocks.
Most filmgoers know Christopher Nolan from his work as the director behind the recent Batman films and Inception but it was the film Memento that unleashed Nolan’s talent for sinister and suspensful movies that underscore his interest in the darker elements of human nature. Nolan’s work is also interested in exploring the elasticity of narrative and how the various constituents of a story fragmented and detached from a linear unfolding, impact the viewer’s experience and expectations. Fans of his films should definitely see his first film, the playful thriller Following, a Paul Auster-like nightmare where identities are swapped and nothing is as it seems. One can see in this early attempt at disorienting the viewer’s grasp of time and plot, a precursor to the brilliant Memento.
As a punk rock skateboarder in the 1980’s, Another State of Mind was the most authentic depiction of life as a teenager involved in the underground music scene that any of us had seen put to film. It could only be found on late night cable television during the eighties and early nineties (you were lucky if one of your friends had a VCR and made a copy of it) and so I leapt at the opportunity to add the DVD release to our documentary film collection, hoping it would appeal to a newer generation as well as those who experienced the eighties punk scene first-hand. Made in 1982, at the time of hardcore punk’s heyday, the film takes the viewer on a cross-country journey with legendary Southern California bands The Youth Brigade and Social Distortion. There is plenty of live footage of the bands playing but the filmmakers primarily concentrated their focus on detailing the experiences of the band members as they struggled to survive the daily grind of touring in an old school bus. There’s also quite a bit of attention given to providing voice to kids the bands met along the way as well the occasional teenage denunciation (targets include: Reagan politics, middle-class conformity, religion, etc.). It certainly brought back some fond memories of my youthful days of DIY music and culture. See a clip here.
Another State of Mind
Wayne White has worn many creative hats over the years (art director, painter, puppeteer, music video director, set designer, animator, comic book illustrator, and so on) but what is most striking about this incredibly accomplished artist is his enthusiasm for integrating humor, levity and fun into his work, a rare mission for someone who has been embraced by both the entertainment industry (Pee Wee’s Playhouse) and the fine art world of museums and galleries. Like most, I knew nothing of his life or work until I saw the wonderful documentary portrait of this high energy personality called Beauty Is Embarrassing. You’ll learn about White’s humble, Southern origins and about his artistically constituted family (including his wife Mimi Pond). There are also tender moments in between the laughter and absurdity where White discusses his upbringing and the support he had growing up from his parents. This is a great film that will inspire your inner artist and rebel.
Beauty is Embarrassing
In Richard Linklater’s Bernie, a surprise hit released in 2012, Jack Black delivers a dialed down performance worthy of award recognition. Black belts out Gospel standards, dances to show tunes and brings a dramatic depth and sympathy to the role that one rarely finds in his oeuvre of slapstick comedies. Bernie is based on a true crime set in East Texas. Black plays the lovable but quirky Bernie, the assistant funeral director who when not comforting his beloved widows, befriends the town matriarch, a mean spirited woman made of money, played by legend Shirley MacLaine. From there, Bernie’s life of piety and service spins out of control when he deviates from his saintly deeds and finds himself confronted with the truth and consequences of his actions.
Director Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter brought him huge commercial success and an Oscar Award for Best Picture in 1978. His follow-up movie, the epic Western Heaven’s Gate, became known as a major flop of a film that almost financially ruined its studio (United Artists) and led to the label of Cimino as overbearing, obsessive and overly ambitious. For those interested in the behind the scenes drama of the making of Heaven’s Gate, see Steven Bach’s book Final Cut: dreams and disaster in the making of Heaven’s Gate for an excellent summary. The Criterion Collection has recently released the director’s cut of this notorious film and it clocks in at over 200 minutes long.
Starring an excellent group of actors like Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, and Isabelle Huppert, Heaven’s Gate is a fictionalized story about the class and cultural conflict between the big money interests of the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association and European immigrants who were accused of poaching cattle and land in the faraway outpost of rural Wyoming. Cimino’s vision is grand and evocative of the vast, beautiful American West, warts and all. While neither a perfectly misunderstood masterpiece nor as terrible a film as its detractors have suggested, Heaven’s Gate is worthy of a viewing but be prepared for the long haul.
The Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday, and one of the great joys that I take from Oscar season is that I can get sweet, nerdy revenge on all my Facebook friends who, for months, have cluttered my newsfeed with football jargon and armchair coaching advice (I don't know what "roll tide" means, but it sounds like a new way to help protect my laundry against stains). For a short period of time, all the sports geeks that I know get to hear this ardent movie nut spout off on things like Ben Affleck's snub for directing Argo (seriously, Academy?) or why Supporting Actor front-runner Tommy Lee Jones (from Lincoln) deserves the gold so much less than Django Unchained's Samuel L. Jackson or Leonardo DiCaprio, both of whom were overlooked. But whether you like Oscar pools or fantasy football (which I'm pretty sure is just Dungeons & Dragons for sports fans), you should absolutely check out some of the nominated films, several of which you can get right now at the Kalamazoo Public Library.
Of the nine Best Picture nominees, the only one currently available on DVD is Beasts of the Southern Wild. This must-see film also received nominations for first-time feature-length director Benh Zeitlin, and Quvenzhané Wallis, who was only 6 years old when the film was made and is now the youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Actress. Beasts is also competing for Best Adapted Screenplay, which was written by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin.
Best Picture nominee Argo will be out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 19th, but KPL patrons can put a hold on a copy of the film now. It received 7 nominations overall, including a Best Supporting Actor nod for previous winner Alan Arkin. And while you wait for the film to come out, you can read the amazing true story upon which it's based, written by real-life CIA agent Antonio Mendez (whom Affleck plays in the film).
Best Picture front-runner Lincoln does not yet have a release date for DVD and Blu-ray, but you can check out John's Williams' music from the film, which received a nomination for Best Original Score. Meanwhile, Tony Kushner received a Best Adapted Screenplay nod, having based the book off a small portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln received the most nominations with 12, which include sure-thing Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, the aforementioned Tommy Lee Jones for Supporting Actor, Sally Field for Supporting Actress, and Steven Spielberg for Director.
Other Best Picture nominees not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD but based on books you can read now include Yann Martel's Life of Pi (11 nominations), Matthew Quick's Silver Linings Playbook (8 nominations), and Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (8 nominations), which was also adapted from the beloved musical.
Beyond the Best Picture list, there are several films currently available at KPL that received Oscar nominations:
Several more contenders will be available in February: Flight, which received nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Original Screenplay (John Gatins); The Sessions, which recognized Helen Hunt for Best Supporting Actress; and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which scored nods for Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).
So come on down to KPL and check out some of these Oscar-nominated films. In the meantime, tell us what your favorite films were this year. What nominations were you excited about, and what snubs got you riled up? What would you choose as the Best Picture of 2012?
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Gerhard Richter Painting is basically a straight forward, gimmick-less documentary presenting the world’s most famous painter doing what he does best--making art. The aloof Richter, now in his 80’s, shows few signs of slowing down though he admits during the film that he’ll call it quits when there’s nothing left of interest. The most fascinating part of the film, which will appeal to those who are working artists themselves, are the scenes revealing Richter’s techniques, many of which are suggestive of both an unpretentious approach and a meticulous thoughtfulness to the act of creation. Few will deny the genuine eclecticism of his highly celebrated oeuvre and fewer yet, will be able to afford one of his sought after paintings even if you win the Lotto.
Gerhard Richter Painting
The Michael Haneke film Amour was nominated for Best Picture this morning in large part because of the amazing performance of 85 year-old French actress Emmanuelle Riva. But did you know that we have Riva’s first film, the brilliant Hiroshima Mon Amour? Released in 1959, the famous French New Wave director Alain Resnais’ beautiful lament for lost love, innocence and peace (both international and personal) introduced the French actress to the world. Set in the recovering city that suffered the explosion of the first atom bomb, Resnais delicately tells the touching story of two lovers, who over the course of a day, search for what it means (if anything) to remember, to forget and to heal from the wounds of war. An affecting masterpiece of both innovation and storytelling, Riva ‘s anguished character (She) attempts to explain to Eiji Okada’s (He) where she came from (the city of Nevers) and how she has arrived in Hiroshima, a city that symbolically parallels her own life’s troubled arch.
Hiroshima mon amour
Jeff Kinney is the author of the very popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, there are seven books in the series and Kalamazoo Public Library has all seven! The printed text appears as if it were hand-written and it is combined with comic drawings to keep the attention of even a reluctant reader. Boys and girls, elementary age and teenage, enjoy reading the books.
I watched the movie titled: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and just thinking about it makes me giggle. The movie is directed by Thor Freudenthal. It revolves around Greg and Rowley, two best friends entering their first year of middle school. Greg is played by Zachary Gordon and Rowley is played by Robert Capron. Throughout their sixth grade year Greg and Rowley make several attempts and schemes at “fitting-in” to middle school life. Yes, there are a few moments of fright and, yes, there is some gross stuff, but overall it is clever, goofy, and at times, adorable. The actors do a great job of conveying their individual character including Greg’s family which consists of an obnoxious older brother and a younger brother, and a mother and father. We get to know Greg’s classmates and teachers and a few bullies. Rowley provides innocence and sincerity to the story along with his catchy phrase: zoo-wee mama! Greg is somewhat of an underdog who keeps persevering throughout, and he deserves a lot of credit for his inventiveness and maturity.
Again, this is a funny movie and I recommend it.
For books, begin at: Diary of a Wimpy Kid; Greg Heffley’s Journal (Book 1)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s mysteriously elegant film The Double Life of Veronique explores the supernatural tale of two women, played by the same actress, who never formally meet one another and yet who look exactly the same and who both feel the presence of the other. Set in both France and Kieslowski’s native Poland, the beautiful Irene Jacob stars as both Veronique and Weronika, two women living parallel lives who both sense that they are both ‘here’ and ‘somewhere’ else at the same time. Following Weronika’s death while singing on stage in Poland, Veronique seeks answers to her strange feelings while beginning to stitch together an explanation for the odd events that have begun to culminate, increasing both her unease and her curiosity.
Double life of veronique
After years of plowing through the great films, scratching one masterpiece after another off of my cinema bucket list, I finally sat down and watched the one film that is almost unanimously regarded as the ‘best ever’—that being Orson Welles’ signature debut, Citizen Kane, released in 1941. Did it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. No film is perfectly conceived or executed and while Welles’ masterpiece ushered in a new, modern looking and sounding film that cemented his talent, Citizen Kane left me feeling a wee bit let down, mostly because much of the intrigue of the story was already spoiled for me. I suppose my expectations were unfairly high to begin with and that I was likely responding to it with judgments based upon the 70 years of filmmaking history that it had inspired.
The tale is a Shakespearean rags-to-riches-to-fall from grace formula but one that creatively unfolds byway of a frenetic, flashback narrative structure that helped to usher in a new era of innovative methods of cinematic storytelling. The acting performances are strong and the shadow-based cinematography predates the film noir style that would become popular throughout the 1940’s. The story of the making of the film is almost as interesting as Welles’ thinly disguised portrait of newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst. So even having been exposed to hundreds of parodies and references of this strikingly contemporary film, Citizen Kane was still worth the wait and definitely should be viewed by any serious fan of film.