Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
There have been a slew of Saturday Night Live alumni that haven’t accomplished much of anything after they departed from the long-running late night show. For every Tina Fey or Eddie Murphy, there have been countless cast members whose careers stalled. Fey’s good friend and sometime collaborator Amy Poehler, has had tremendous success with her hit show Parks and Recreation. I just love this show for its bumbling characters and madcap storylines, all of which center around the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. Longtime fans of the show The Office will recognize many similarities between the two series, including how the show is formatted, filmed and narrated. Here’s to hoping that the quirky, smart plotlines continue to stay fresh and hilarious.
Parks and Recreation
The newly released film Submarine is a sharply written, sweetly-toned, dark comedy reminiscent of the quirky films of Wes Anderson (see: Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaum’s) and the lively joie de vivre of the French New Wave. The film doesn’t cover new ground in terms of themes and subject matter, but it sustains your interest and deserves to be seen for the beautifully rendered cinematography (the gray, sunless beauty of the Welsh coast is its own character) and the strong acting performances, especially the work of Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the protagonist’s parents. The movie is an adaptation of the novel by author Joe Dunthorne, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Oliver Tate is an angst-filled and precocious teen who sits in class, fantasizing about his own death and how his schoolmates will remember him (heroically of course). Cut from a similar cloth as Harold from Harold and Maude and possessive of the qualities of a slightly neurotic, hormonally-driven teenager (see: every coming of age movie over the past fifty years) who speaks with a rapid-fire deadpan, Oliver sets out to address his two biggest concerns as a 15 year-old: saving his parents’ marriage from a new age “mystic” and figuring out his relationship with his firework’s-obsessed, anti-romantic romantic girlfriend Jordana. In between these two goals, Oliver plays movies in his head and listens to the records of French crooners. He constructs mental films of his existential woes (what tormented teen doesn’t?) and not surprisingly, has a Woody Allen photo on his bedroom wall and reads Catcher in the Rye and Nietzsche (because as we all know, most teens are reading The Birth of Tragedy). His problems range from the domestic to the romantic, both conflicts driving him to actions both absurdly funny and achingly real. Some of the best parts of the movie are when Oliver attempts to intervene in his parents’ rocky marriage, spying on them both while conceiving of ways to bring them closer. The soundtrack, written by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys is fantastic as well.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been compiling my Best of 2011 list, an annual ritual of sorts, comprised of my favorite books, movies and music published throughout the year. But what about all of the great movies and music from years gone by that I’ve recently embraced and enjoyed? Well, here is a list of films that I’ve recently viewed, some of which are well known classics and others that are gems just waiting to be discovered and checked out. Compared to recently released films, they hold up quite well.
All That Heaven Allows: The great director Douglas Sirk’s classic tale of domestic and social conflict between a restless widow (Jane Wyman) and a close minded society that refuses to accept her love for a younger man played by Rock Hudson. The vibrant Technicolor and use of innovative filming techniques makes this seemingly conventional melodrama an influential touchstone for contemporary directors like Todd Haynes (his great movie Far From Heaven is a reworked homage to Sirk’s classic) and Ranier Fassbinder.
A Streetcar Named Desire: A stunning movie when you consider the time period in which it was made. Everything you’ve read about Marlon Brando’s visceral performance is accurate. His explosive screen presence set the stage for younger method actors to take more expressive approaches to acting. What I didn't know was how mesmerizing Vivian Leigh was going to be as the doomed Blanche DuBois.
Night of the Hunter: A perfectly rendered performance by Robert Mitchum as the creepy murderer posing as a preacher (famously adorned with the words hate and love tattooed on his knuckles) makes Night of the Hunter one of the 1950's most influential films. Mitchum’s deranged killer faces off against two children and an ornery grandmother as he tries to secure a large sum of stolen money. The famous ditty sung by Mitchum throughout the film was referenced by the Joel and Ethan Coen in their 2010 film True Grit during the closing credits.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: One of the director Martin Scorsese’s lesser known films from the 1970’s but a strong, poignant film nonetheless. Driven by the award-winning, tour de force performance of Ellen Burstyn, Alice tells the story of a young mother in search of a career as a torch singer. Unsuccessful in love and singing, Alice ends up in the American Southwest working as a waitress at Mel’s Diner (later to be spun off as a television sitcom). Kris Kristofferson plays a man who shows an interest in Alice and her son. Will Alice settle down and marry or will she head off to California to strike it big as a singer? Her quirky, talkative son provides the movie’s comedic and lighthearted touches. Cameos by future stars include a very young Jodie Foster and Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel.
The Big Sleep: A lively if often convoluted whodunit, this first adaptation of the Raymond Chandler classic, was a major success at the box offices when it was released in 1946. Starring Hollywood’s hottest couple at the time, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, this Phillip Marlowe-centered, detective thriller is one of the few book adaptations that translates well to the big screen in large part to the great chemistry between the two stars and the crackling dialogue, filled with gritty innuendo.
Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore
Produced by Nickelodeon studios – which gave the world SpongeBob and slime – Rango was heavily promoted on Nick’s cable channel (and elsewhere) just prior to its theatrical release last March. Why not? The film is populated by talking animals, its lead character (voiced by Johnny Depp, star of Rango director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean series) is naively charming and quirky, and, hey, it’s animated! Must be a kids’ flick.
Not so fast. It’s not that kids won’t enjoy Rango – my first-grader did – it’s just that Rango may really be a cult film for adults disguised as a kids’ flick. (Yes, my kid enjoyed it, but didn’t talk about it much past the day we saw it.) While most decent kids’ films in the last decade have plenty of references kids may not get, the entirety of Rango will make the most sense to adults who have grown up with, well, films for grown-ups.
Our hapless title hero, a domesticated lizard who, like Bolt and so many other animated big-screen pets, gets separated from his cushy lifestyle in the film’s opening moments, is thrown into a gritty western scenario more evocative of Anthony Mann than Woody’s Roundup. Townspeople are terrorized by villains who control the town’s water supply (shades of Chinatown), so when the goofy stranger arrives on the scene, they look to him as their last great hope (echoes of High Noon). Nothing here the kids can’t enjoy, but what’s up with that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference?
Rango’s classic western types are thoroughly engaging characters that should have their audience really caring about their fates, whether or not it cares about westerns. That said, familiarity with the western genre should make the film even more enjoyable. If that sounds like your kind of film, then don’t wait for the kids to pick it up from our collection.