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Staff Picks: Movies

Everything Is Oscar

Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, which means it’s once again time for me to let all the obsessive movie lovers out there know which films are available right now (or very soon), here at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

The first film you’ll want to get your hands on is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.  Nominated for six Academy Awards, this critical darling is the front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director (Linklater) and Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette).  It also received nominations for Best Actor (Ethan Hawke), Film Editing, and Original Screenplay.  Boyhood is an epic coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years using the same actors.  The story follows the journey of young Mason Evans as he ages from six to eighteen, and the viewer can literally watch the young actor grow and mature before their very eyes.  It’s truly a great achievement in filmmaking.

The next movie you’ll want to watch is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which received nine nominations—tied for the most this year.  It was recognized for Best Picture, Best Director (Anderson), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score and Production Design.  The hilarious film follows the exploits of a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy (Tony Revolori) as they attempt to wrest a valuable painting from the estate of a recently deceased elderly patron.  Surprisingly, this is Anderson’s first Best Director nomination and the first of his films to get nominated for Best Picture.

After that, it might be time for a marathon of Best Visual Effects nominees: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy (also nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling).  Come to think of it, if there were an Oscar for the length of the movie title, these would probably be the nominees for that as well.

Then turn your eye to Best Animated Feature nominees: How to Train Your Dragon 2 is out now; The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 are not available yet, but they will be soon and you can place a hold on them right now.  Shockingly, everything was not awesome for The LEGO Movie, which did not get nominated for Best Animated Feature as expected, but it did still pick up a nomination for Best Original Song with “Everything Is Awesome,” performed by Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island).

Next, you’ll want to check out Disney’s Maleficent, nominated for Best Costume Design; Finding Vivian Maier, a Best Documentary Feature nominee; Begin Again, Original Song nominee for “Lost Stars”; and Ida, which scored both Best Cinematography as well as Best Foreign Film.

Best Documentary nominee Virunga is available via our streaming service hoopla.

There are several more nominees that are arriving within the next several weeks that you can place a hold on right now, including eight-time nominee The Imitation Game.  This true, tragic story of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer and preeminent World War II code-breaker, scored recognition for Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.  The other coming-soon films that you can place a hold on now are Gone Girl (Best Actress – Rosamund Pike), The Judge (Best Supporting Actor – Robert Duvall), Nightcrawler (Original Screenplay), and Beyond the Lights (Original Song).

So start binging today, and be sure to keep checking our catalog for other Oscar nominated films as more of them become available.

For many of the Oscar nominated films that are still in theaters, be sure to check out downtown Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse Theater, which is currently playing American Sniper (6 nominations), Foxcatcher (5 nominations), Into the Woods (3 nominations), Selma (2 nominations), Inherent Vice (2 nominations), and the aforementioned The Imitation Game (8 nominations).


More of the Same Isn't a Bad Thing

If you had occasion to see The Trip and enjoyed it, take comfort in the knowledge that its sequel, set in the picturesque country of Italy and starring the same actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves, will again provide the same brand of zany, improvised humor with a sprinkle of pathos tossed about to level the egos. In fact, almost nothing has changed about the plot structure from the first to the second movie and those who hated The Trip, will undoubtedly want to steer clear of the recently released follow-up. 

Once again, as in the first film, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon set out to eat at six different Italian restaurants over the course of six days with the goal of then writing about their experiences for a British publication. As with the first film, both men verbally joust with zingers and good natured barbs like rival schoolboys in between stuffing culinary treasures of Italy into their rather large and garrulous mouths. Impersonation battles (Tom Hardy, Al Pacino, Roger Moore, and of course Michael Caine) are once again much of the meat of their constant prattle. As with the first film, British director Michael Winterbottom flattens the heavy amount of tit for tat clowning with solemn moments where our normally chatty actors slow down to reflect upon the emotional turbulence of male aging and the occasional midlife crisis. The scenery is as gorgeous as one would expect and for those who like their comedy born from characters with imperfect and exasperating ticks, this may well appeal to you.


Year End Favorites from the Movie Collection

The following were my favorite movies of the past year that are available from the KPL movie collection. Some are classics, many are foreign language, a few are funny, and on occasion, a masterpiece or two made the list. There were also the casual discoveries of pulling a movie from the shelf without knowing that much about it and being pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to enjoy. It was a good year to cross off a few from my ever-growing bucket list of movies to watch.

The Funny: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bull Durham, The Big Chill, Bad Words, and The Trip to Italy

The Masterpieces and Classics: Safe, Rififi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Vanishing, Persona, Double Indemnity, Eternity and a Day, Autumn Sonata, Pierre le Fou, Down By Law, Walkabout, Brute Force, The American Friend, Johnny Guitar, Ida, Hail Mary

The Surprises: Omar, Certified Copy, The Landlord, Black Orpheus, The Double, Still Walking, Secret Sunshine, Purple Noon, Gerry, Mystery Train, Happy Together, 2046, Captain Philips, Bronson

Documentaries: Black Fish, The Punk Singer, Beware Mr. Baker, Benjamin Smoke, The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, These Birds Walk, Plimpton, The Armstrong Lie, Cousin Jules, Harry Dean Stanton.     

     

 


A Vampire Movie for Adults

One of my favorite films of the year comes from director/writer Jim Jarmusch, who has made a very charming movie (Only Lovers Left Alive) about...well...very cool vampires with excellent musical and literary tastes, hanging out in Detroit, lamenting the zombie-led destruction of all that which they consider civilized (vintage guitars, romantic poetry, art). The film feels a bit like a love letter to all of Jarmusch's influences and interests. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play two bummed out, very 21st Century vampires in love who have lived a very long time on earth and who are feeling a bit blue about the future of not only the world's swing toward ruin but their own crisis of faith in continuing their tiresome slog through the centuries. Hey, it's tough out there for a vampire.


A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down is about four people who on New Years Eve all try to commit suicide by jumping off a very tall building. They of course do not (or it would be a very short movie). I found it interesting that this tall building had razor wire and sharp pointing things around its edges to discourage jumping. Martin (Pierce Bronson) brought a ladder to lay across the wire and enable him to get out far enough to jump. Maureen (Toni Collette) shows up and asks if she could wait and tells him it was a good idea to bring a ladder she had not thought of it. This gives you an idea of the quirky nature of this movie. Then Jess (Imogen Poots) shows up and makes a run for the edge, she is stopped by Martin and Maureen. While these three are skirmishing about we meet J.J. (Aron Paul), who is a Pizza Delivery boy, also on top of the building trying to jump. Everyone leaves, fate and lots of rain bring them together again. They make a pack to not jump until Valentines day. They bond and we learn more about each one and why they were on top of the building.
Come on down to KPL and check it out.


The Little Guitar in Movies

After watching one of the last episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which one of the characters performs a poignant rendition of the classic ballad La Vie En Rose with a Ukulele, I began thinking about the cinematic role of this Hawaiian instrument (one of my favorites). Several recent films came immediately to mind (Her and Blue Valentine) but after a Youtube search, I discovered a few others films that feature this little guitar’s power to pluck an audience’s heartstrings. For fans of the instrument, check out Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs.

From the movie Her

A compilation of movie scenes: 

 


You Ransom, You Lose Some

Life of Crime is not an official prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but it’s okay to pretend it is. Both films are based on Elmore Leonard books (The Switch and Rum Punch, respectively) and feature two of the crime novelist’s recurring characters, ex-cons and criminal cohorts Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara. Mos Def and John Hawkes take over these roles—originally played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown—and give you a glimpse at the earlier days of their illegal antics.

Set in Detroit in the late 1970s, Life of Crime follows Ordell and Louis as they hatch an ill-fated plan to extort money from corrupt real-estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) by kidnapping his wife, Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), while he’s away on business. Unfortunately for the kidnappers—and for Mickey—Frank is actually off in Florida with his mistress (Isla Fisher), and when he hears that his wife is in mortal peril if he doesn’t pony up a million dollar ransom, Frank sees this as an opportunity to escape what was a failing marriage without having to face a costly divorce and steep alimony payments. Things are further complicated as Frank’s mistress hijacks the hostage negotiations, the white supremacist-slash-gun nut harboring Mickey grows dangerously unstable, and Louis begins to develop feelings for Mickey even though he may be forced to kill her.

Directed by Daniel Schechter and co-starring Will Forte and Mark Boone, Jr., Life of Crime deftly captures the pulpy crime and oddball humor of the best Leonard adaptations and would make for a great double feature with Tarantino’s masterpiece, even if the two are related only in spirit.

 


Thunderstruck

Thunderstruck is Freaky Friday for basketball. This is a Disney like movie. A high school student loves basketball but sucks at it. He has the classic sister who video tapes him and the classic high school bully who posts the videos on the cafeteria monitor. A side note, this really shows how times have changed and not changed. Growing up we did not have a TV in the cafeteria, heck computers were not even invented, but we did have cafeteria humiliation. This is the same and is timeless. Make fun of the nerd, Jocks rule. Once that is set, we see Brian at a Thunderstruck basketball game and he gets picked to throw a half court basket which could win him $20,000. He, of course does not make the shot, and instead hits the mascot, thus making it more humorous. But by being selected to throw the ball Kevin Durant signs a basketball for Brian. When exchanging the basketball Brian wishes he had Kevin’s talent and Kevin wished Brian did have his talent, a sparkle appears and we witness magic occurring. Brian now has Kevin’s talent. Brian tries out for the high school team and becomes the star. Kevin loses his talent and becomes the joke of basketball talk shows. We see the classic, Brian rises in high school fame, gets the hot girl, dumps his childhood friend. The girl tells him she liked him pre basketball stardom and that he has changed. Brian sees the light, gives back the talent and becomes the good guy on the high school basketball team. I goggled Kevin Durant and he is a bona fide basketball star playing small forward for the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team. Considering he was 9 foot something ( a slight bit of exaggeration) I had an inkling he was a real basketball player, not sure why he is a “small” forward. How big do you have to be to be a big forward? The message of the movie is hard work gets you where you want to go. This is my message: magic will get you there sooner Enjoy the movie and keep looking for the magic. Come on down to KPL and check it out.


The Reconsidered Film

Sometimes a film just does not hit you in that sweet spot the first time around. You leave the theater disappointed or mulling over what could have been. Maybe it was you all along, your mood, your unwillingness to open up and let the film work its magic. I’ve hated films that I later came to love and respect after my initial dismissal. There are those films that grow on you and seem to get better with multiple viewings. The first time I saw Frances Ha, I moaned about its obvious influences and reference points (Godard, Truffault). The protagonist’s personality was a bit grating and I just couldn’t give in to the film’s cloying repackaging of the classics of the 60’s and 70’s it so self-consciously aped. It simply felt derivative, the kind of film where its style devours its substance. I recently gave it a second chance and have subsequently modified my early misgivings. I think the elements of the film I enjoyed the most were the editing and the choice to convert the digital footage into black and white. It’s quite the looker. Now there are a lot of movies not worth a first viewing let alone a second but sometimes there comes a long a film that deserves a reconsideration.


Bee Sting

In Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, a prickly forty-something with a long-festering grudge named Guy inserts himself into a national spelling bee for children by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules that simply stipulate that entrants must not have graduated from the eighth grade.  Having dropped out of middle-school (and accompanied by a scrappy journalist ready to spread negative publicity at the drop of a hat), Guy meets with begrudging official compliance that quickly erupts into a national controversy surrounding his participation.  It doesn’t help that Guy gleefully exerts dominance over his otherwise bright and intelligent kid competitors whom he eviscerates through intimidation, manipulation, fear, and his own grown-up word power.  Guy’s motives for competing against children in a nationally televised spelling bee are kept a mystery until near the end of the film, but suffice it to say, he’s an angry man looking for revenge.  Along his path of destruction, Guy develops an unlikely friendship with an overly earnest 10-year-old named Chaitanya, who proves to be quick study in the ways of profanity, reckless behavior, and ultimately, stubbornness.


Bad Words is a pleasantly vulgar, pitch-black comedy that avoids the usual tidy-bow happy-ending clichés found in most Hollywood comedies.  Guy is unabashedly unpleasant and his slightly paternal relationship with Chaitanya never gets cloying.  It’s worth checking out if you like your humor dark and inappropriate.  The talented cast includes Kathryn Hahn, Philip Baker Hall, and Allison Janney.