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Staff Picks: Movies

Dramas with the White Stuff

Do you love snow and winter? Here are some serious dramas where winter or snow plays a significant role in the plot and setting.

Mon Oncle Antoine
Metropolitan
Fanny and Alexander
The Ascent
A Christmas Tale
My Night at Maud’s
All That Heaven Allows
Downhill Racer
Fargo
The Shining
Frozen River


About Time

Mixing Notting Hill-like romantic fantasy with time traveling tropes, About Time excoriates viewers to live life to its fullest in the most sugary of ways. The message throughout the film is crystal clear and delivered like a hammer slamming against your head and your heart--life is precious and always chockfull of peaks and valleys, therefore, even if your family has the capacity to travel backward to modify one’s choices and missteps, one should recognize and cherish the insignificant, every day moments that form one’s life. It’s a terribly obvious film with just enough melodrama and character to move the heartstrings while not embarrassing itself. What better way to spend a dreary, cold Saturday than inside with a bowl of popcorn and a movie with beautiful people romping about their romantic endeavors with time travel at their fingertips. For fans of treacly schmaltz like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Love Actually, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Vow.


Binge Watching ‘House of Cards’

Many of my friends have shared their enthusiasm for the series House of Cards. I had never seen an episode but knew from awards shows that it was highly acclaimed. This political season seemed like a good time to watch it.

As my husband and I have been saying to each other as we have been binge watching season #1…is there anyone to like in this show or is everyone a back-stabbing, double-crossing politician?? So far the answer is NO….there is no one to like BUT it is very compelling.

My friends tell me I will be appalled at how Frank Underwood becomes President without being elected. If we watch enough episodes tonight, maybe he will be President by the morning.

This is just one of many good series in our AV collection. I have several on my list for watching this winter.

 


Degrassi High

Degrassi High, the original, debuted on PBS in 1989, when I was seven-going-on-eight. The high school drama was a bit too old for me then, but boy, am I glad it’s out on DVD, because, as a 30-something, I love it. Its charm is multifaceted: there’s the 80’s fashion, the nostalgia for the smart-phone-free days of my youth, and actors who are actual teenagers and seem like normal kids. Although the show can seem a bit like an afterschool special, it addresses controversial topics in a way that teen programs just don’t do anymore. Kids today might not get the appeal, but I recommend  Degrassi High for any Gen-Xers who want to take a look back.

And without further ado, here’s Joey and the Zits, Degrassi’s very own rock stars:


Still Walking

The Japanese film Still Walking is a beautiful portrait of a strained but loving family whose complicated history unfolds over a single day under the specter of death and grief. While this may turn away those who seek out escapist fare in their movie-watching experience, the film avoids the trappings of being too grim. With its un-rushed lyricism and thoughtful pacing, the wonderful dialogue unpacks our characters’ anger, regret and nostalgic yearning for what could have been and what never will be. The film never feels preachy or heavy handed. It simply explores how each family member deals with loss and conflict, often through aloof and insensitive ways that only deepen long-standing wounds. Catharsis is depicted as problematic, messy and much more difficult to bring about than any self-help manual would suggest. The message here is that Hollywood endings have no place in the real world and that’s what you’re going to get with this highly personal work from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Set in a hilly, coastal town, the Yokoyama family meets each year to remember their son and brother who died in a drowning accident some 15 years before. It’s an opportunity to eat (and eat they do), catch up on gossip, visit the grave and introduce the parents to new family members. Fathers and sons will spar over legacies, husbands and wives will recall past infidelities, and a young boy will begin to understand his own heartache within a broader context. Fans of films like Tokyo Story and Yi Yi will enjoy Still Walking’s intelligent slice of life approach to exploring the dynamics of family drama.


Palo Alto

Palo Alto is based on the book Palo Alto: stories by James Franco. The stories are based on James Franco's high school days. Basically a story of kids in high school defining who they are, dealing with issues that come up in high school; drinking, drugs, girls. Jack Kilmer son of Val Kilmer is the star. It is his first movie and he kind a looks like Val Kilmer just a little especially in the face. Val Kilmer's is also in the movie as the stepdad of Emma Roberts who is the other major lead. You can tell it's a low-budget film but it's entertaining and really talks to the raw emotions of highschooler's.
The main theme for this is that April (Emma Roberts) has a crush on her soccer coach James Franco. Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and his buddy Fred do things together, smoke weed. go to parties. Teddy has a crush on April. Now one thing I did notice in this movie is the lack of parental supervision. Not until Teddy gets in trouble and has to go to court do you see the mom. Other than that you don't see a lot of the parents, mostly if you do see them it's the kid saying “Hey I'm going out”. That's just my view was as a parent.
Come on down to KPL and check it out.

 


A Late Bergman Tour de Force

Autumn Sonata (1978) is a masterful portrait of the kind of personal conflict embedded within family relationships fraught with regret, shame and disappointment. The great actress Ingrid Bergman (who only worked with Ingmar Bergman once) puts in a fantastic performance as the aging classical pianist who tries to reconnect with her two adult daughters, both of whom she has emotionally neglected over the years in pursuit of her career. Racked with guilt, Bergman clumsily attempts to express her deep feelings of regret and love for her eldest daughter (played by the great Liv Ullman) over the course of a long awaited visit. A brilliant a depiction of the corrosive discord between a parent and child, Autumn Sonata’s evocative power revealed that Bergman was still a master at the melodrama by excavating both he and Ingrid’s personal challenges with mediating family, love, art and career.

 


Fetch

The whole dystopian thing may have reached the point of oversaturation in our popular culture: zombies, givers, hunger gamers, diverging, purging, maze running—we’ve had so much of it, the genre’s bound to regress into some sort of metaphorical mass-market post-apocalyptic wasteland of itself. And yet this summer’s underappreciated gem The Rover is so delicate in its vision, so realistic in its squalor, you may forget you’re watching something taking place ten years after a catastrophic global economic collapse. Set in the Australian outback, the film depicts a world of desolation and lawlessness, of dog-eat-dog survivalism; there’s no fantasy or sci-fi to this wasteland—this is what real dystopia is going to look like.

Amidst this societal decay is Eric (Guy Pearce), a drifter whose life is as hollow and ruinous as the world around him. While passing through the middle of nowhere, Eric encounters thieves who are fleeing from a botched robbery, and they steal his car. Taking the last possession of a man with nothing left to lose proves to be a bad move on their part, as Eric begins a dogged pursuit to retrieve his vehicle with the steely vigilance of a Terminator. Just when he thinks he’s lost the trail, Eric comes upon a wounded man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be the brother of one of the thieves—badly injured in the robbery, they left him for dead. Eric takes Rey hostage and demands he be led to where his brother’s gang will be hiding out. Rey is the one man who can help Eric get back the last thing in his life that he cared about, but will he be more trouble than he’s worth?

Written and directed by David Michôd, who also made the excellent, Academy Award-nominated crime drama Animal Kingdom, The Rover is suspenseful and well-acted (Pearce is always reliable and Pattinson goes a long way to make you forget all the sparkly vampire paint he used to wear). The gritty world is richly detailed in its bleakness, and the final shot, though some may find it divisive, is a pitch perfect elegy to companionship and a dirge to life before the world collapsed under the weight of selfishness and greed.

 


Making the Grade

There’s just not enough time to compose a lengthy review of some of the great and not-so great feature films, television series and documentaries that I’ve caught over the past month, so instead, I’m handing out a grade and an abridged appraisal.

Bastards—A grim, pointless waste of time from French Director Claire Denis (C-)
Hateship Loveship—Continued proof that former SNL star comedian Kristin Wiig should keep looking for dramatic roles (B)
Orphan Black—Yes, lead actress Tatiana Maslany was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her multiple roles in this great BBC-produced show about clones (A)
Requiem for the Big East—For college basketball fans who grew up in the 1980’s and recall watching these legendary teams, this ESPN documentary will rouse a healthy dose of nostalgia (B+)
The Bridge—in keeping with the very trendy, neo-noir subject of serial killing and the relationship between detectives charged with solving the mysteries (see: True Detective), this cross-border drama explores the messy dialectics of national politics, the consequences of drug/human trafficking and the tension between rich and poor (B+)
Captain Phillips—nothing here was particularly new, assuming you followed the story when it originally unfolded, but it still remains a dramatically compelling, well-paced action film that will jump-start your adrenalin (A-)
Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of the New Yorker—a satisfactory if not condensed portrait of an eccentric visionary and his creative collaborators who developed a unique and lasting publication (B)

and...

Palo Alto—a drained, vacuous sketch of the psychic ennui of rich, white teens whose lives gravitate around sex, drugs, video games and pathetic, exploitative adults (D)



The Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.

Last Year at Marienbad
Muriel
Citizen Kane
Memento
Fight Club
Big Fish
Rashomon
The Usual Suspects
Possessed
Forest Gump
Atonement
Fallen
American Psycho
Lolita
The Great Gatsby