Staff Picks: Movies
The name Peter Bogdanovich may not be a household name but he’s made a career out of making movies, writing about movies and occasionally acting in movies and television (The Sopranos). While his film output is slim compared to other filmmakers of his generation, he made two classic movies in the 1970’s that alone, would establish his cinematic credentials. These two films are Paper Moon (1973) (DVD coming soon!) and The Last Picture Show (1971). Both films put the spotlight on young actors that would go on to become big stars (Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Cybill Sheperd, Ellen Burstyn, and Jeff Bridges). Both films were filmed in black and white and both looked back to a past milieu that seemed a life time away from the early, counter-cultural 70’s when they were made. The Last Picture Show is a moody, bittersweet portrait of teen life in a gloomy, withered West Texas town, one that’s literally been abandoned by the rise of corporatism and the growth of urban and suburban development. It’s a visually rich film that avoids sentimentality while arousing a deep lament for the death of small towns and the innocent, one-dimensional values associated with them. The word ‘longing’ comes to mind when watching this film--the longing for community, for a left behind past, and to be understood.
No less somber in its depiction of desperate living in times of economic decline, Paper Moon does have its moments of levity and humor. Overall however, the film’s two protagonists, a grifting duo conning their way across the Midwest, understand that survival in the midst of hard times is at best precarious and at its worst, fraught with danger. The movie’s heart and soul is animated in large part from the wonderful performances of the father/daughter team of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. These are two American classics that continue to inspire and influence today’s best filmmakers.
The last picture show
Last year, the Danish film The Hunt was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It's the story of the social and individual price of a child's lie. Good natured Lucas works at the local elementary school, beloved by the school children and adored by his hunting buddies, Lucas finds himself at the center of a police probe after his best friend's daughter claims that Lucas abused her. As the town rallies behind the girl's claim, Lucas finds himself socially disconnected from the small town and the target of violence. The film tackles the subject of mob mentality and how quickly a faleshood can function to demonize an innocent person. Driven by a strong performance by the lead actor, The Hunt is an excellent film worth checking out.
Carried Away is a story about a family and their relationships with each other. It starts with Ed Franklin coming home from Hollywood to Fort Worth Texas. I don’t think we know why. We see that he is a bit of a loser. When he is waiting for his mother to pick him up from the airport we hear him on the phone telling someone about his new play where he is playing all the parts. Just listening to him describe the play you know it will be a boring disaster. We find out the person he is talking to is his ex girlfriend and they have been broken up for months. Then we meet the family, the mother who is not happy with her husband, the younger brother who is awaiting trial for selling pot and seems to be nice and caring, the other brother, who is built like an ox and reverts to physical actions when trying to make his point. Then there is the Father who is a dominating patriarch, a that’s it end of discussion you will do it my way kind of guy.
We find that the grandmother is in a nursing home and she is not happy there. Ed had taken care of and lived with his grandmother from when he was age 8 to age 17. Ed decides to take his grandmother out of the nursing home and take her to live with him in Hollywood. He loads her up in the car and off they go. The father finds out and is furious, the two sons get in the car with him and they take off on a road trip to set things right. What follows is humorous and touching. This isn’t a block buster type of movie but I enjoyed it. Give it a try.
I knew very little about Blue Ruin when I went to see it at Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse theater—just that it was a revenge thriller that had been widely beloved by critics. It was one of the “Drafthouse Recommends” featured titles, which—for movie buffs like me—is a stamp of approval worth heeding. And wouldn’t you know it: this edge-of-your-seat thriller has turned out to be the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. I appreciated not knowing even the basic premise of the film going into it—a rarity in this age of oversharing, spoiler-y trailers—so I will tell you very little about it in hopes that you will be pleasantly surprised as well.
Here’s what I’ll share: As I’ve said, it’s a revenge thriller, so you know somebody wants to get back at somebody else, but it will take that premise in surprising directions; it’s bloody, so you’ll need to be able to stomach some gore; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll get to see Eve Plumb, best known for playing Jan on The Brady Bunch in her youth, wielding a machine gun (who doesn’t want to see that?). So check it out: Blue Ruin, available soon on DVD here at KPL, and keep an eye out for more “Drafthouse Recommends” titles. The Alamo brings a lot of great films to Kalamazoo that no other theater does. As a die-hard movie fan, I rarely go anywhere else.
Under the Skin is a new film that will figuratively get under your skin with its nightmarishly surreal images and discomfiting plot. Simply put, it’s a slow-burning, almost dialogue free collection of bizarre images that possess a creepiness that leaves its evocative residue all over your mind well after the credits have rolled by. The film is careful to make sure that the weirdness is couched in ideas, specifically notions about perception and how we look at one another often from unfamiliar perspectives. Ultimately, the film feels as though it should have been fleshed out into something on an expanded scale with a more substantive engagement with its ideas. A perfect film, no. A must-see film, absolutely.
Under the Skin
As with most of the wonderful films that have been made under the ESPN film series 30 for 30, Youngstown Boys is a moving examination of the relationship between power, money, urban neglect and the role that larger socioeconomic forces play in molding the lives of individual athletes as they develop both on and off the proverbial field. These are not films about sports as such but rather powerful documentaries that explore the lives of the famous and infamous through a sociological lens, positioning their subjects within a broad framework for understanding the causes and effects of noteworthy events. This is the story of the rise and fall and rise again journey of a successful college football coach and his star player. It’s also a story all too common in today’s world, where young, inner-city athletes are confronted with difficult challenges and choices in regards to their future. Running back Maurice Claret and coach Jim Tressel were the toast of Columbus, Ohio for one magical year of success before controversy erupted on Ohio State's campus, leaving both men in very different situations, both trying to succeed in a world of greed, influence and big money. Claret’s story unfolded under the intense glare of the national media whereas the documentary provides greater clarity and a more nuanced context as to the events that would test the strong bond between these two Youngstown Boys.
Last year, the psychological thriller Prisoners was a break out hit for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. With his follow-up film Enemy, once again starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the director embraces Hitchcockian style and atmosphere over formal plotting. Enemy is a kind of tone poem of dread and anxiety that I suspect will leave many a viewer grumpy and unsatisfied (more description would only spoil it). I for one enjoyed Villeneuve’s playful antics and commitment to the project over any kind responsibility to provide viewers with a conventional follow up. Fans will either love the Kafkaesque horror of the film or despise it for its provocative resistance to philistinism. You decide.
The Good Wife is one of the best network television shows and after five seasons, still going strong with its mixture of secrecy, passion, scheming and legal maneuvering.
It possesses all of the elements for a successful serial: power politics, courtroom confrontations drawn from the headlines, mysterious characters, well-paced intrigue, and nuanced storytelling. Throw in a fantastic cast (that’s refreshingly racially diverse) that brings to life the smart writing and you have a hit show worth binging on.
The Good Wife
Spike Lee’s seminal film Do the Right Thing was released 25 years ago today to both critical acclaim and grumblings that the movie might insight violence.
The film centers on one extremely hot day in a Brooklyn neighborhood, where racial tensions have reached a breaking point. It did what few movies had done then or even now—honestly addressed racism in our country.
In the resulting 25 years, the movie has become an American classic, one whose story is still as pertinent today as it was when it was released.
Do the Right Thing
In less talented hands, Her could have become a mess of empty romantic sentimentality or an opportunity for heavy handed statements about the future hazards of alienating technologies. But viewers are in luck, the inventive mind of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation) has made a sensitive and powerful film about the limits and possibilities of human intimacy as mediated through artificial intelligence. Her is a magnificent film that hits the right notes over and over again without giving into satire or weighty pessimism. The film’s casting is superb, the music perfectly fits the emotional tones and the visual imagery of a near-future only delicately disorients our sense of time and setting, leaving the viewer to consider the subject matter as a deeply contemporary one. Fans of films like Lost in Translation, Harold and Maude, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beginners, and The Future will likely be drawn into Jonze’s quirky world where timeless desire in the future has less to do with operating systems and more to do with the continuous puzzle of the mind/heart machine.
70 years ago today, one of World War II's most significant battles was D-Day, the day in which thousands of Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel to invade German occupied France. There's certainly no shortage of informational resources on this topic but if you're a WWII buff or simply want to know more about this imporant day in the fight against Nazi Germany, check out The War by Americana documentarian Ken Burns. This is my favorite work of Burns and his most emotionally dramatic. Soldiers who were there, storming the beaches of Normandy, recount with unfiltered descriptions, the horrors, heroism, and blunders that they experienced on that fateful day and in doing so, provide an unromanticized version of their sacrifice. It's Burn's most stirring documentary and one that is required viewing for those interested in World War II. For those who want their history fictionalized, KPL owns many feature films set during wartime, including Saving Private Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, Schindler's List, The Big Red One, Force 10 from Navarone, The Thin Red Line, The English Patient, The Winds of War, In Darkness, Ivan's Childhood, The Cranes are Flying, and Flags of Our Fathers.
Nebraska, the movie, is filmed in black and white, which makes it different from the start. It is a slower, steady-paced story about an adult son’s resigned understanding toward his aging father who believes he has won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes.
Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, the deteriorating father, and Will Forte plays, David, the son. June Squibb plays Kate, the brutally honest wife. The story begins with the father walking along the highway in Billings, Montana. A police officer stops the father and contacts the family to pick up the old man. The son retrieves his father who tells everyone that he is walking to the sweepstakes headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska to claim his fortune. He means what he says and the son realizes there is no stopping him. A road trip ensues. On the way they stop in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown, occupied by many relatives and friends and former business acquaintances. They stay with Woody’s brother and sister-in-law and criminal sons. Woody announces to everyone that he’s going to be a millionaire. After that, every day is filled with drama, shananigans and tell-all stories from the past.
The believability of the characters and the story is bar-none. You become immersed in the events. It is quirky, goofy, frustrating and tender, all things human. Nebraska was nominated for six Academy Awards. The combination of actors and directors is superb.
This year’s Cannes Film Festival winners included Winter Sleep (Best Film), Bennett Miller (Best Director), Julianne Moore (Best Actress) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor). Here’s a look back at some of the films that have previously been awarded the prestigious Palme d’or.
Taste of Cherry—1997
The White Ribbon—2009
Return to Me is a Heart warming tale and I chose those words on purpose. Bob (David Duchovny) is a construction worker and has a wife who works with primates. She has a special bond with one gorilla and they give each other special signs. She dies. She has to die because the whole movie is about Bob falling in love with the woman who receives his wife’s heart. Prior to her dying we are introduced to Grace ( Minnie Driver). She needs a heart and works in an Irish diner. Carol O’Connor is one of the owners and speaks with an Irish accent. I found it hard to believe that Archie Bunker had an Irish accent. We meet her sister played by Bonnie Hunt who wrote and directed this movie. So now you feel good about Grace, she has a nice family, she is deserving of a heart and she gets one. Time passes, Bob misses his wife but it has been enough time that we, the audience, do not feel he would be cheating on her, betraying her love if he met someone. Bob has come to terms with it. Bob gets set up on a blind date and guess which restaurant they choose. While at the restaurant Bob is inexplicitly drawn to Grace. He asks her out. She is not sure she wants to go out with anyone as her chest has a huge scar from the heart transplant. We are treated to their courtship, the eventual revealing of the heart transplant and whose heart it was. We see a scene where Grace is at the zoo and the gorilla is giving her the special sign. While I personally think a heart is just a muscle and does not encompass any of the personalities of its owner, it makes for a cute romantic movie. You feel for Bob. You want Grace to go out and have romance. You cheer when they do finally get together. And you have the added pleasure of hearing Archie Bunker talk with an Irish accent. What more could you want. Sit back, get your popcorn and enjoy.
Return to Me
From the folks at The Criterion Collection, explore road trip-themed movies over the summer months--many of which can be found in the KPL Catalog.
Jim Jarmusch’s films are not for everyone. They are, however, incredibly influential and important in the history of American cinema. Slowly paced with quirky characters, his droll, often minimalist films explore the ironic and humanistic with equal attention. His films feel very American (the America on the margins that is) while at the same time, they are populated with Italian cabdrivers (Night on Earth), teenage Japanese tourists obsessed with early rock and roll (Mystery Train), and Hungarian immigrants (Stranger Than Paradise). His most accessible and mainstream movie to date is Broken Flowers, due in large part because of Bill Murray’s great performance as a romantically failed, wealthy introvert who wears retro sweat suits while sitting in the dark (during the day), watching television. It’s only when he receives a mysterious letter from one of his ex-girlfriends, suggesting that he has a son he never knew about, does he set out on a personal journey toward…well, maybe nothing and maybe everything. The moments within a journey are what fascinate Jarmusch about the human condition rather than a tightly sewn conclusion to a story. His cult classics Down by Law and Stranger Than Paradise cemented his reputation as an indie sweetheart with a wry sensibility and skill for reimagining genre and form by the early 1990’s. The release of his newest film (Only Lovers Left Alive) will once again shine the light on one of America’s most idiosyncratic, independent filmmakers.
DisneyNature has done it again. This time it is a year in the life of a Bear family. We follow Sky, the mother, and her two cubs Scout and Amber through the first year of their life. We start with their birth and we follow them cross the Alaska wilderness from the snowy mountains to the rivers full of salmon. It is spectacular scenery, breath taking views and a prodigious insight into the life of Bears. I saw DisneyNature-Bears in the theatre and paid movie going prices, you can place a hold now and see it for free from your library. We also have many more movies you may be interested in, come on in and take a look or go to our KPL website and browse from home.
DisneyNature – Bears
Writer Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been adapted for the big screen on more than one occasion. Clearly, directors from varied backgrounds have felt something motivating in her twisting tales of deception and murder. Her ominous story (The Talented Mr. Ripley) of a young American sent to Italy to return an expatriate, school chum to his father in San Francisco was the inspiration for French director Rene Clement’s (Forbidden Games) Purple Noon. This stylish, Hitchcockian adaptation was the coming out party for 1960’s French heartthrob Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, the cold and calculating con man who wants more than just a courier fee for the return of the glib, rich boy. German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) took Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game and transformed it into The American Friend (1977), a beautifully shot thriller that burns slowly as a psychological portrait of desperation into one of unleashed madness, if not comically so. The late British director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) made a patchy version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Jude Law, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Matt Damon in 1999.
Actor/director Ben Stiller makes a decent go at breathing new life into a classic story by James Thurber that was originally adapted in 1947 with Danny Kaye playing the lead. Thurber disliked the MGM film and I suspect that as an artist who cared deeply about his work, he’d find few remains of his classic tale of a socially awkward introvert prone to vivid daydreaming in Stiller’s ambitious yet uneven attempt. It’s a movie with a heart even if it’s one that is cloying and flavored with a simplistic “just do it” spirit. Stiller’s Mitty fantasizes as a means to escape his life of corporate downsizing and failure to find love. As a heroic everyman willing to brave danger to save a damsel in distress, Mitty finds agency, meaning and purpose (the hyper-masculine sort of course) but then again, that’s only a narrative exercise that takes place between his ears. It’s when he’s propelled by urgency, self-interest and romantic inspiration that our ill-at-ease hero pushes aside his fear and anxiety, leading to the a-ha moments one locates in adventure but also the kind found in every self-help book (live life to the fullest dude!). Stiller’s harmless, family-friendly and entertaining take on a classic is worth a viewing for its reimagined Mitty and superb cinematography but you may want to simply head to the library and pick up Thurber’s story for the substance.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Paolo Sorrentino’s mesmerizing film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is a triumphant depiction of a conflicted man standing at an emotional crossroads. Both wry in its biting humor and satire, it is a powerfully visual film (crane shots, close-ups, slow motion, zooms—the entire repertoire is employed) with boundless charity toward plumbing the emotional depths of universal themes (death, lost love, artistry, loneliness, spiritual desire) from within a carefully sketched milieu (Rome’s glamorously debauched and powerful).
Confronted with both the ubiquity of beautiful things found in everyday moments (the radiant smile of a young child, ancient sculpture, an early morning sunrise) and the grotesque and decadent trappings of Rome’s high society, well-tailored flaneur Jep Gambardella, hops from party to party, engaging in vacuous conversation that leaves him bored and wearily wondering whether being the “king” of the vapid souls of conga lines and performance artist flunkies is worth his growing ennui. When he learns of the death of a woman he had a youthful affair with many summers ago, Jep begins to soul search in between attending parties for 104 year old Saints (a dead ringer for Mother Teresa), a trip to the botox shaman and a visit to a magician who makes giraffes disappear. Much of that contemplation on the frivolousness of his life takes place during quiet strolls back to his lonely bachelor pad and this is where some of the most touching scenes of the movie take place. Sumptuous in its portrait of Rome’s scenic beauty and borderline whimsical in a way that echoes the fantastical leanings of Fellini, The Great Beauty is just that, a magnificent spectacle of visual eye candy that poetically affirms our human yearning for something other than self-absorption. Lastly, this film has a wonderful soundtrack that includes Arvo Part, The Kronos Quartet, and Damien Jurado. Far and away my favorite film from last year, The Great Beauty is also available to stream from Hoopla.
The Great Beauty
This is the true story of one woman’s pursuit for answers to questions long dismissed by an institution of power and secrecy. For Philomena, her story begins as a young, unmarried teen saddled with the birth of a son in a socially conservative Ireland during the 1950’s. Teen pregnancy was considered a moral sin that required a person’s atonement according to church practices. Taken in by a local abbey, she was coerced to sign away her parental rights, forced into performing labor and tragically witnessed the selling of her child to an American couple. Decades later, having stumbled across a former journalist and political spin doctor who was looking to revive his career by penning a “human interest” story for a magazine, Philomena sets out on a journey toward emotional closure and to learning about her son’s life in the United States. As I watched the film, I couldn't help but wonder if reading the memoir wouldn't have been a much better way to learn about Philomena's story. The actors are top notch but they can't save a film where so much depends upon the final 15 minutes, leaving much of the film about the odd couple relationship between Philomena and the journalist, which sadly, was far from interesting even with their tit for tat discourse regarding the power of faith in the face of injustice.
Most of us prefer sound with our visual imagery when it comes to movie watching. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself to experience visual poetry and storytelling in new ways without the element of music or dialogue, here’s a quick introductory sampler of well-regarded works.
People on Sunday
Le Quattro Volte (sound, but no dialogue)
The Passion of Joan of Arc
People on sunday
Francois Truffaut’s sinuous portrait of provincial childhood is one of his lesser known works but those who appreciate his acclaimed 1960’s movies (The Antoine Doinel series, Shoot the Piano Player) will no doubt discover that Small Change is a true gem within his oeuvre. Known for depicting the complicated by joyous nature of French childhood with a tender humanism tied to an un-romanticized realism, Truffaut approaches his young subjects and the local adults like a documentarian, concentrating his focus on capturing both the special and everyday moments that mark a life. A first kiss, the anxiety of answering a question in front of the class, sneaking into a movie theater with a friend, even falling from an open window--Truffaut effectively mixes the lighthearted with the darker shades of growing up.
When it was released in 1960 to universal acclaim, visionary maverick Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless broke all the rules of conventional moviemaking. As posited by The Criterion Collection site, "there is a before Breathless, and an after Breathless” along the timeline of film history. The film’s radical break with tradition promptly posed new questions about what a movie could look like, sound like, mean, and most importantly, what a film could be. Even today, the film that kicked off the French New Wave retains a freshness and vitality that are striking and discomforting to those new to its anarchic, free-jazz sensibilities and inventive modes of representation. Godard’s reinvented salute to the American gangster genre mixes together into a highly original work of art with countless allusions to previous movies, references to literary texts, celebratory homages to American directors, and stylistic devices such as his famed jump cuts and an enthusiastic embrace of natural lighting and sound that in 1960, deviated from mainstream studio practices. It’s a film that is winking at the audience from the eye of its director and yet even as we push aside it’s question posing and deeply philosophical implications, it also functions as a terribly entertaining movie. Not only is the film considered one of the most influential, it subsequently launched the career of French leading man Jean-Paul Belmondo, who went on to work with Godard on A Woman Is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou. The Criterion Collection has just recently re-released Breathless on Blu-Ray and DVD with a wonderful array of supplents to go along with the feature.
The Danish political drama Borgen has been favorably compared to the American hit show House of Cards. While it resists the kind of farcical plotlines and hyper-cynicism of the Netflix-produced show, there features more than enough intrigue and Machiavelian maneuvering for political power to keep the storylines interesting and germane. Some critics have also alluded to The West Wing’s influence but Borgen resists the kind of naïve portrait of contemporary politics as a romantic idyll or a noble vocation. Borgen’s female protagonist is both a savvy political player engaged in political jousting and a committed wife and mother which suggests that there will be plenty of personal and political sacrifice to go around when the mud begins to fly. This is bingeworthy television, Scandinavian style.
In case you needed one last, post-Oscars list to use for upcoming checkout's. According to a survey of the editors and contributors of Film Comment magazine, these are the Top 20 films of 2013. Some have been released on DVD and others have yet to hit the shelves.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- The Act of Killing
- A Touch of Sin
- Computer Chess
- Frances Ha
- Upstream Color
- Museum Hours
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Spring Breakers
- Like Someone in Love
- Stories We Tell
- American Hustle
- The Grandmaster
While there’s wisdom in that adage advising us to avoid judging books by their covers, when it comes to movies, I don't feel the least bit superficial when I admit that I’m swayed by an attractive cover- even if only a mildly interesting synopsis is on the back. When I recently saw the cover for Reaching for the Moon- sunshine, blue skies and a radiant, happy couple on a beach- I hurriedly borrowed it, learning only after that it is a drama depicting the real life love affair between renowned poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soareswas.
While the film takes artistic liberties with actual events, its depiction of the romantic relationship between these two complex women is done in a way that feels as honest and real as a fictionalized account can, and, thankfully, is light on sentimentality; while Reaching for the Moon tells the story of women who are lovers, it is not a romance and its focus isn't only on their love. The lives of these talented, accomplished women, the places and times they navigate, their lifestyles, their complicated relationship and the poetry it all inspired are tastefully explored and make for a remarkable film, one far more interesting and and better told than many. I expect to be recommending it for quite some time.
Reaching for the Moon
What happens when one of the staff persons charged with helping young people overcome trauma, neglect and abuse at an at-risk juvenile home is quietly suffering from her own painful past? This is the question at the center of this wonderful, little film propelled by strong acting performances and a deft touch at balancing grim subject matter with moments of levity and humor. Grace, played by a fantastic Brie Larson, and her devoted boyfriend Mason work together to help kids manage their feelings and cope with the cards they’ve been dealt. But her strength of character and compassionate heart alone are of little use when it comes to facing her own feelings of fear, anxiety and anger. Short Term 12 proves again that a film’s success is in no way related to the number of celebrity actors, use of CGI or amount of super hero characters. Sometimes, going small produces large rewards.
Short Term 12
Often cited as one of the most influential, low-budget films that contributed to the emergence of the American Independent Film Movement of the 1980’s, Paris, Texas is an inspired evocation of the personal journey of a tortured soul (Harry Dean Stanton) progressing toward forgiveness and redemption. Set in Texas and Los Angeles, German director Wim Wenders paints a moving and poignant picture of an emotionally troubled man seeking to make sense out of his fractured, tumultuous past and in the process, repair some of the damage he’s inflicted upon those he loves. Pitch perfect as a kind of neo-Western, road-film, from the casting down to the spare beauty of Sam Shepard’s writing, Wenders unpacks the story of Travis and Jane to reveal the power of guilt, regret and selflessness.
“Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours is a small movie that contains multitudes”—Luc Sante
Jem Cohen’s film Museum Hours is a brilliant and mesmerizing answer to a question that he himself poses in the essay that accompanies the DVD—“How then to make movies that don’t dictate exactly where to look and what to feel? How to encourage viewers to make their own connections, to think strange thoughts, to be unsure of what happens next or even what genre of movie it is? How to combine the immediacy and openness of documentary with invented characters and stories?”
While not formulaic in the commercial, Hollywood sense, Cohen’s film does have a plot but one would be hard pressed to characterize the film as plot-driven nor does it particularly care about predictable scenes where characters recite lines from a script. It’s a much looser and improvised affair that speaks to Cohen’s interest in depicting the poetic and ephemeral place where life and art intersect, those elements of everyday life that register on the periphery of perception but that still make up the subjective landscape of human experience and history. What the film is (its form and conceptual concerns) and what the film is about (perception, loneliness, the universality of art over time and its allusive, individual character, etc.) is not one in the same but rather they complement each other.
The film at its core is the story of two strangers who meet at the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum in Vienna. Johann is a middle aged guard who spends his hours staring at people looking at art. Anne is a woman visiting her ailing cousin who is dying in a nearby hospital. He befriends her after they meet amongst the paintings of Bruegel, Rembrandt and other European masters. He serves as a kind of Viennese tour guide and translator for her as she awaits news about her comatose cousin. They wander through bars, take hillside strolls, amble through urban markets, and board an underground boat ride, both connecting the other to their life in miniatures, doing so as strangers once did prior to social networking. The dialogue is magically awkward and feels as though the actors were directed to improvise their conversational responses. Anne, played by cult singer Mary Margaret O’hara is especially magnetic. This is one of my favorite films from last year.
Sandra Bullock may have taken on deadly space debris in Best Picture contender Gravity, but it’ll likely be Cate Blanchett that destroys her chances at winning a second Oscar come Sunday, March 2nd. That’s right, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony is less than two weeks away, which mean now’s the time to catch up on all those critically-acclaimed movies you’ve been meaning to watch. Thankfully, the Kalamazoo Public Library is here to help with this list of all the Oscar-nominated films that you can check out from us right now:
- Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips received 6 nods overall, including Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (Tom Hanks just missed the cut for Best Actor, but his performance is riveting, especially in the film’s final 10 minutes).
- Cate Blanchett is the front runner for Best Actress in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The film also received nominations for Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Original Screenplay.
- Best Animated Feature nominees The Croods and Despicable Me 2 are available now (Front-runner Frozen will be here in March). Despicable also received a nomination for Best Song with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
- Four of the five Best Documentary Feature nominations are here: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, and 20 Feet from Stardom.
- Big-budget summer films Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Lone Ranger received nominations for Best Visual Effects. Ranger also received a nod for Hairstyling & Makeup alongside fellow unlikely-contender Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.
- Baz Luhrmann’s opulent take on The Great Gatsby was recognized for Costume Design and Production Design.
- Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Hunt is currently available, while fellow contenders The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Great Beauty will arrive in March.
- The third part of Richard Linklater’s beloved romance trilogy, Before Midnight, received an Adapted Screenplay nod.
- All is Lost features a great performance from Robert Redford and was recognized for Best Sound Editing.
- Abduction thriller Prisoners is competing for Best Cinematography.
Several more Oscar contenders will be available on DVD or Blu-ray very soon:
- With 10 nominations (including Bullock’s), Gravity (available February 25th) will be a force to be reckoned with on Oscar night. It has a great shot at winning Best Picture and Director (Alfonso Cuarón) and is also the front-runner for technical categories like Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The film was also recognized for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.
- Also out on February 25th is Nebraska, which welcomed nominations for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Actor (Bruce Dern), Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.
These Oscar contenders will be available in March, and you can place a hold on them right now:
- 12 Years a Slave received 9 nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Steve McQueen), Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o).
- American Hustle was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director (David O. Russell), Actor (Christian Bale), Actress (Amy Adams), Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), and Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
- Dallas Buyers Club has 6 nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and both actors are favored to win in their respective categories.
- The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), and Adapted Screenplay.
- Philomena is competing for Best Picture, Actress (Judi Dench), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay.
- Also arriving in March are nominees The Grandmaster (Cinematography, Costume Design), Inside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing), The Book Thief (Original Score), Saving Mr. Banks (Original Score), and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Original Song).
Keep an eye out for the rest of the nominees, which are sure to follow. In the meantime, come on down to KPL and start prepping for Oscar night!
Tom Hanks is not talking to a basketball named Wilson this time and I haven’t seen any cute UPS type commercials like there were after the Cast Away. Captain Phillips was a more serious movie and it was made after real events. A real Captain Phillips was really steering an ocean going container ship carrying much needed food and water to Africa. It was attacked by Somali pirates and boarded. The movie starts out introducing you to lives on both sides. We see Captain Phillips saying goodbye to his wife as he boards a plane to go to Oman to captain the boat. We see the Somali people and how they are forced to be pirates. The movie does not waste a lot of time showing you background, it jumps right to the actual attack. The Container ship repels the first attempt but when the one boat comes back they successfully board the container ship, largely due to a malfunctioning fire hose that was supposed to keep the little boat away. What I found interesting is that there were only 4 Somali pirates and they were not that bright. But they had automatic weapons. If the container ship had even a couple of guns they might have staved off the attack. When the little boat gets close and hooks it’s ladder to the ship I kept thinking why don’t they go and repel boarders. The people who lived in castles did it all the time. Somebody puts up a ladder, you push them and the ladder off. Once boarded Captain Phillips misleads the pirates, tricks them, tells them the ship is broken etc. The Pirates were not the brightest. I think the Somali Pirates should use this movie as a training film for what not to do when hijacking a ship. When the Somali pirates took Captain Phillips in the lifeboat it got very real for me. I remembered watching this lifeboat and hearing about the Navy Seals and their 3 shots fired simultaneously and how much praise they got for their accuracy. In the movie when they rescue Captain Phillips it wasn’t like in a Sylvester Stallone movie where they pounce around all macho. Tom Hanks did an excellent job of being in shock. He couldn’t speak, he was on the verge of crying. He made you feel his distress. I give him high praise for conveying that emotion effectively. Come on down and check this DVD out from KPL.
Set in Yokohama Japan prior to the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, this animated story of passionate students fighting for the preservation of a beloved school building slated for demolition parallels the romantic story of two young teens and the mysterious history that binds them together. The film will appeal to all ages but teens and tweens may be its biggest audience. Maudlin and sweet, From Up On Poppy Hill can be viewed with either the original Japanese or the English language version.
From Up on poppy hill
This is heart wrenching film from Swedish director Jan Troell focuses on one woman’s tumultuous life as a psychologically and physically abused wife and mother who momentarily escapes her domestic torment by picking up a camera—an instrument of creativity and documentation that she uses as a means for both personal expression and as a gateway to escape her unforgiving life. Shot with exquisite cinematography, Everlasting Moments takes the viewer on an anguished ride through the minefield of Maria Larsson’s troubled life—one defined by her amazing strength and fortitude in the face of heartbreak and disappointment. As bleak as her prospects are, Maria (brilliantly portrayed by Maria Heiskanen) discovers that there are moments, sublime in their ephemerality, when she and her alcoholic husband face the obstacles of war, poverty and hunger together and tenderly. Troell has masterly rendered a humane portrait of a family struggling to survive in pre-WWI Sweden, with the centerpiece constituted by Maria’s endless capacity for grace, forgiveness and persistence.
Reader’s Advisory is a term that librarians use to describe the act of linking similar titles together so that readers are exposed to authors and titles that possess comparable thematic or stylistic qualities. This is the first installment of a film version of that kind of process of suggestion. It’s not scientifically based and so absorb these lists with a grain of salt.
• Liked Goodfellas, try Miller’s Crossing
• Liked Charulata, try Everlasting Moments
• Liked The Truman Show, try Real Life
• Liked Drive, try Taxi Driver
• Liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, try Petulia
• Liked Last Year at Marienbad, try Memento
• Liked The Ice Storm, try Ordinary People
• Liked Groundhog Day, try Being There
• Liked Take Shelter, try Repulsion
• Liked Il Postino, try Amelie
• Liked E.T, try Super 8
• Liked Doubt, try The Silence
• Liked Mad Men (series), try The Hour (series)
• Liked Paper Moon, try The Last Picture Show
• Liked Harold and Maude, try Delicacy
• Liked Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy, try The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
• Liked Goon, try Slapshot
• Liked Harry and Tonto, try Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
• Liked The Newsroom (series), try Sports Night (series)
• Liked Platoon, try The Thin Red Line
• Liked Leaving Las Vegas, try Taste of Cherry
• Liked Dead Man Walking, try Into the Abyss: a tale of death, a tale of life
• Liked There Will Be Blood, try Citizen Kane
• The Bridge Over River Kwai, try Force 10 from Navarone
• Liked Blue Valentine, try A Woman Under the Influence
Force 10 from Navarone
Le Havre is a wonderful film that I missed seeing when it first showed at WMU’s Little Theater several years ago. Named for a provincial city on the northern, French coast, the film is one of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s most warmhearted and charming. Known for his less is more approach to film making, his works tend to give birth to zany, working class characters whose expressions of both joy and futility come off as droll and darkly peculiar (fans of Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch will appreciate the brand of humor). Le Havre is a simple story: an elderly shoe shiner stumbles into a plot to hide a young, African boy from the authorities who seek his deportation. Ex “bohemian” Marcel Marx has a difficult enough time as it is in dealing with his critically ill wife. His newest project, one that he had not expected, is to safeguard with the help of his fellow townspeople, a young refuge named Idrissa, who is seeking to travel to London. With the authorities hot on his trail, Marcel keeps ahead of the fuzz with just enough assistance from Le Havre’s band of bartenders, rock musicians, and an unlikely detective. It’s a beautiful fantasy as much as it is a political fable about community and humanity.
As a new parent, my interest in stories of kidnapping and child abduction has suspiciously dwindled, and yet the stellar reviews for Denis Villeneuve’s recent film Prisoners compelled me to watch it. In it, Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a survivalist father whose daughter goes missing along with her best friend. A suspicious camper is seen in the nearby area, and when the police attempt to question the driver, he behaves erratically and tries to flee. The suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is arrested, questioned, and his camper and home are combed over by a forensic crew. No evidence is discovered, and the police deem Jones to be mentally incapable of taking the children without a leaving a trace, so he is released. This incenses Dover, who believes the children are still out there, waiting to be rescued. When it’s clear that the lead detective, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, has moved on to other leads, Dover decides to take the matter into his own hands. He kidnaps Jones, holes him up in an abandoned building, and proceeds to torture the suspect in hopes that it will lead to the whereabouts of the girls.
Despite the bleak premise, Prisoners ends up sticking with you for all the right reasons. The film dares you to question how far you would go to rescue your own endangered child. At once you want Dover to push through the barriers created by a plodding police investigation, yet his vigilantism clearly veers out of control. We’ve seen Jones behave villainously, but by the time Dover has beaten him to an unrecognizable pulp, it’s hard not to feel reluctant sympathy. On top of this, Villeneuve does a great job getting the viewer to wonder whether or not Jones is guilty; in one great sequence, Dover believes he hears Jones say something incriminating under his breath that no one else around them catches, and smartly, the audio is too muffled to allow the audience to hear it either.
Prisoners succeeds in no small part because of its actors: Hugh Jackman gives a performance that in less-crowded years might have been considered for a Best Actor Academy Award nomination; Paul Dano is reliably creepy; Melissa Leo continues her streak of stellar turns; and Jake Gyllenhall brings the right level of world-weariness to the lead detective who seems to be hindered by an overwhelming bleakness that has beaten him down over the years.
When I first saw a preview for Prisoners I was put off by what seemed to be a very by-the-numbers revenge mystery. Thankfully, the film turned out to be so much more, and as I settle into this pre-Oscars period of assembling my favorite films of the past year, it’s looking more and more like this movie I cannot shake is going to make my top ten.
The Criterion Collection has a wonderful page on their website that catalogs the 10 favorite Criterion releases from a wide assortment of actors, musicians, directors, writers and other arty types. I always find these selections a good place to start my search for the unseen and unknown. If I were asked to list my ten favorite films from their collection, I’d start with the following:
1. Harold and Maude
2. Hiroshima Mon Amour
3. Au Hasard Balthazar
4. The 400 Blows
5. The Royal Tenenbaums
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc
8. Late Spring
9. Pierrot Le Fou
10. In the Mood for Love
Any sort of discussion of historically significant directors must include the work of the great Satyajit Ray. Ray’s visually brilliant and emotionally moving Charulata (1964) tackles the subject of desire; specifically that of a lonely and bored housewife imprisoned by limited social expectations and later on by romantic feelings for her husband’s cousin. Her newspaper-running husband’s responses to her veiled longing and artistic aspirations come off as glib or paternalistic. It’s only when his wayward, free spirited, poetry-composing cousin arrives to live at their home that Charulata begins to self-actualize and to allow her creative passion for writing to become more pronounced and acknowledged. Ray’s talent was in mixing the styles and tone of European and American films with the local, cultural nuances of Indian society. Always sensitive to develop multifaceted characters that are easy to sympathize with, Ray’s films feel like visual diaries of emotionally repressed or socially oppressed persons struggling to reconcile the old with the new, the traditional with the modern. The quality of acting is also top notch.
Whether or not you count yourself among the many that study and delight in the works of Shakespeare, you might find that Joss Whedon’s recent interpretation of Much Ado about Nothing is well worth a watch. While the cast speaks in Shakespearean tongue, Whedon and his cast convincingly tell this story as a modern one still worth our attention.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white. The contemporary setting (Whedon’s family home) and the choice of real-life clothing rather than period costuming support a phenomenal cast who deliver the lines in the cadences of contemporary speech, making the story feel fresh, the plot devices less archaic.
I was particularly riveted by Amy Acker’s portrayal of the smart, sharp-tongued Beatrice, who is moved to moral outrage at her cousin Hero’s undeserved disgrace at the wedding altar, displaying what would have been thought of in Shakespearean times as more “manliness” than any of the men who stood by instead of defending Hero’s honor. Her delivery of the famous “O that I were a man” speech gave me chills as she exclaims her frustration at her powerlessness as a woman of her time and her fury that she “cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.” Her performance is done with such conviction, she seems anything but powerless; if anything, she seems heroic (no word play intended). Ultimately, of course, Beatrice embraces the man she’d so adamantly mocked before, having challenged him to become a man worthy of her.
While the story is rife with drama, deceit, and what passes for romance, there’s plenty of physical humor, with Benedick rolling in the grass outside the windows and Beatrice hiding in the kitchen to overhear conversations undetected, and comedic relief in the delightfully self-important security guards: bumbling tough guys whose swagger is intentionally and plainly laughable.
Thanks to one director's interpretation and a talented cast, I've never enjoyed a Shakespearean tale as much as I did this movie. Perhaps you will, too.
Much ado about nothing
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: