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Staff Picks: Movies

The French Gangster Film

Writer, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich once said that it was always the French who told us what was great about American filmmaking, in essence, that the French tended to be more enthusiastic about particular films and filmmakers that were under-appreciated by American audiences and Hollywood studios (examples would include: Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Howard Hawkes). It was also the French who took the American crime thriller genre and elements of film noir and who with stylish flare re-modeled two decades worth of brilliant movies that depicted criminal protagonists and their anti-social activities (see: Rififi, Bob the Gambler, Les Doulos, Le Samourai, Shoot the Piano Player, and Breathless). 

One of these outstanding films is Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954), starring a washed up, leading man (Jean Gabin) and an unknown actress who would become an international star in the coming years (Jeanne Moreau). Everything simply clicks in this Jacques Brecker directed film about an aging gangster who just wants to retire after a big heist. Gabin plays the affable Max, a man who is both loved and respected by the women and fellow mobsters in his life. When his beloved but bumbling side-kick Riton becomes embroiled in a messy dispute with another gangster, Max must choose between his money and his friendship. The title translates as Don’t Touch the Loot but fans of film noir should certainly get their hands on this classic.


Everything Is Oscar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Year End Favorites from the Movie Collection

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

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

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

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

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

     

 


All Memories Are Traces of Tears

At its core, the Wong Kar-Wai film 2046 (2004) is about the anchor of memory and the struggle to move beyond the emotional stasis of ill-fated love. Developed as an associated sequel to his breathtaking classic In the Mood for Love (2000), it’s a poignant and heart-wrenching follow-up that restarts the story of Mr. Chow, an uninspired writer of pulp whose life as an aloof playboy incapable of emotionally connecting with the several women he encounters both in real life and in literature. While a central character from ITMFL is alluded to several times during the film, often hanging over the plot like a ghostly signifier for Chow’s past, one could conceivably view 2046 as a singular film about the pitfalls of timing but I would highly recommend beginning with ITMFL before undertaking the narratively intricate arcs of 2046 (there are countless allusions to the previous film that will function only to confuse the audience).

Mostly set in Hong Kong during the latter part of the 1960’s, Mr. Chow (played brilliantly by actor Tony Leung) is writing a Science Fiction story about the year 2046, a time and place where people go to relive their memories, a place where nothing changes. No one has ever come back from 2046 except for the teller of the tale, a Japanese man named Tak, a kind of stand-in for Chow. Chow’s unsentimental affair with a call girl who lives in an adjacent apartment (room number 2046) is achingly born out of Chow’s loneliness and boredom with his career but she has an earnest and quixotic plan for him that will force him to address his yearning for a past that has come and gone. Both films masterfully depict moodiness and atmosphere like few others in due part to the sensual cinematography of Christopher Doyle and use of melodic music to evoke the interior longing of characters. Prepare for a non-linear plot that jumps backward and forward throughout the film.


Best of the Reissued Movies of 2014

It’s that time of the year to look at some of the notable films that have been restored and re-released back into cultural circulation once more. The Criterion Collection once again represents the gold standard in terms of packaging and supplementing these culturally significant works from the past.

1. The Long Day Closes
2. The Vanishing
3. Charulata
4. The Big Chill
5. La Vie de Boheme
6. Love Streams
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
8. Sundays and Cybele
9. Nostalghia
10. Safe


The Young Girls of Rochefort

Made during a time when the Hollywood musical was all but dead, French director Jacques Demy’s sherbet-toned, song and dance-fest was about as uncool as it got in the sphere of mid-sixties French cinema when it hit theaters in 1967. It was a Technicolor throwback, a flamboyant and syrupy homage to the Hollywood musicals made during the previous decade. Starring French actress Catherine Deneuve (Delphine), her real-life sister Francois Doreleac (Solange) and American screen icon Gene Kelly, the film is set around a city-wide festival in the uninspiring town of Rochefort. The self-absorbed twins (Delphine is a dancer and Solange is a composer) are bored with their predictable, mundane lives and wish for the riches of celebrity in their artistic fields. Love and romance of course are also on their to-do list. Made in collaboration with sixties It-composer Michel Legrand, Demy’s classic is an energetic and luminous show of treacly schmaltz with its quixotic heart worn unashamedly upon its brightly colored sleeve.

 


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


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.


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.

 


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)