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Staff Picks: Movies

You Ransom, You Lose Some

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

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

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

 


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.

 


Need for Speed

Need for Speed the movie is based on the video game. Usually you see a video game developed due to the popularity of the movie. As the title suggests there are a lot of fancy expensive very fast cars racing each other and the law. Many car crashes with explosions. Part of the movie was getting from the East coast to the West Coast in time for the race. It reminded me of the movie Smoky and the Bandit. This is an enjoyable movie if you like car chases, car crashes and cool looking cars. 

Check it out at KPL.

 


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.

 


Rich Hill

There is a rich documentary film tradition that has chronicled our nation’s struggle to address the sources and solutions of systemic poverty and income inequality. Films like Roger and Me, Poor Kids: An Intimate Portrait of America’s Economic Crisis, Two Nations of Black America, American Dream, The Queen of Versailles, The Corporation, Harlan County, USA, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Down and Out in America, Inside Job, have all with their unique perspectives attempted to shine a critical light on the political, cultural and socioeconomic forces that contribute to endemic hardship in a country where national rhetoric and historical myth about opportunity often run counter to the research data about access to resources, class privilege and wealth accumulation. We can now add the new film Rich Hill to that list, a film that details the everyday struggles of several families in the tiny town of Rich Hill, MO. The film focuses on three young men who are entering their coming of age years, fraught and complicated in any context, but for them, the difficulties of growing up without financial advantages are compounded by their parents’ struggle with chronic unemployment, health problems and incarceration. Each boy clings to the idea that the American Dream is real and attainable even when the statistics are clearly working against the likelihood that the boys will escape such cyclical poverty. It isn't all doom and gloom, as the film does show the children doing what average American teenagers do and think about. While the film concentrates on a very small town, much of the film can be read as a reflection of the challenges facing large swaths of both rural and urban cities alike.


Johnny Guitar...Not Really About a Guitar

Cult writer/director Nicholas Ray made his legendary mark with his post-WWII output, including classic gems like They Live By Night (1949) Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Bigger than Life (1956). Ray’s indelible take on the Western genre was unique and altogether misunderstood during its time. Much of the heavy subtext of the film was either ignored or quickly dismissed by critics who thought Ray’s film was intended to be a standard, cliché-filled Western with easily consumable elements. Instead, Ray’s Johnny Guitar functions as a subtle allegory indicting the anti-communist, witch hunts that were taking place during the time. Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden give great performances as the misunderstood outsiders who clash with the local townspeople over real and perceived injustices.


My Favorite Film of 2014...So Far

Every year there is at least one movie that stands out among the rest, one that possesses the entire creative package and that works substantively on a variety of levels, including emotional, intellectual and visual. Last year, it was the film The Great Beauty that blew me away. This year’s pick is the Polish language film Ida, a masterful work of direction, acting, writing, and cinematography (you won’t find a more beautifully lit and framed film). It’s a film that seamlessly weaves together the residue of historical tragedy into the contemporary lives of its two main protagonists, echoing the truism that to a certain extent, societies and individuals are held hostage by their ever present pasts. And for the 18 year-old Anna (an orphan who grew up in a convent), history will reveal itself in the form of an Aunt Wanda, a woman she was told to meet prior to taking her vows. Anna quickly discovers that her birth name was Ida and that she is Jewish. Wanda is a bitter, hard drinking, state judge whose disenchanted life is filled with lost faith (both in religion and Communism), grief, and the embrace of the kinds of materialist vices unknown to her pious niece. Plotted along a linear path that takes the form of an unfolding road trip, Ida and Wanda’s investigation into the death of their family members forces each woman to recognize internal contradictions about themselves (Wanda’s past may also include her complicity in wide spread death and imprisonment) as well as to shine a light on Poland’s conflicted history, where religious identity, communism, and the Holocaust intersect. Subtle in its storytelling, tender and humane in showing of richly complex characters, classical in its framing of images, Ida is a flawless film that will leave you mesmerized and wondering as to Ida's future.


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.

 


Thunderstruck

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