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Staff Picks: Movies

If Horror Could Win a Caldecott...

Every year, dozens of horror films are dumped on the movie-going public—many of them profitable, most of them awful. Thankfully, each year there always seems to be one or two gems that manage to make it to market, and as a fan of the genre, it is my duty to seek them out. Last year, one of these instant cult classics was The Babadook, the terrifying (if curiously titled) Australian film debut from writer-director Jennifer Kent. I discovered this film at my annual pilgrimage to the Traverse City Film Festival and have been singing its praises since.

The Babadook follows Amelia, a beleaguered single mother whose troubled young son, Samuel, is a very taxing ward. Samuel has a hyperactive fear of monsters and a predilection for making homemade weapons, which gets him into a lot of trouble both at home and at school. He constantly seeks nighttime refuge in his mother’s bed, tense and clinging. Amelia finds herself overworked, overstressed, and severely deprived of sleep. She also harbors an unspoken resentment of her son; she secretly blames him for the death of her husband, who died in a car accident while taking her to the hospital the night Samuel was born.

The film gets its title from a children’s storybook that Amelia finds in her house: Mister Babadook tells the tale of a ghastly figure in a black overcoat and top hat who terrorizes children and represents one’s darkest impulses. Once Amelia reads this book to her son, they begin to be tormented by an unsettling presence. But is there really a monster named Babadook after them, or is Amelia just becoming psychologically unraveled? Either way, danger will reach a boiling point.

 
The Babadook plays like a Tim Burton acid-trip gone horribly wrong. It’s arguably the most intense film I’ve ever sat through—even without the dread-inducing bogeyman, the reluctantly dutiful relationship between mother and son is such a source of angst and consternation that you’ll be clenching your fists and gritting your teeth for the majority of the film’s running time. All of which is to say, this film is a must-see for horror fans. It’s one that will get under your skin and stick with you, because much like the eponymous storybook suggests, once you let him in, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.

 


Becoming Made

We are always pleased at KPL to include in our collections the work of local authors and artists. A recent addition is Becoming Made: The Artist and a Japanese Woodblock Print, a documentary film by local artist—and now filmmaker—Mary Brodbeck. This short but jam-packed film follows the creation of a Japanese woodblock print from start to finish, complete with information about the technique, its history, and Brodbeck’s personal journey toward working in this medium. We learn from Brodbeck’s own Japanese teacher; we are enlightened by interviews with other woodblock artists; we are even inspired by the lyrical thoughts of poet/philosopher Mark Nepo on the idea of slowing down…something that clearly became part of the artistic process for Brodbeck in mastering this technique. And the inspiration she takes from her own personal experiences living near the Great Lakes makes her work particularly appealing to those of us who share that love.

Becoming Made has had several public screenings in Kalamazoo recently. If you had the opportunity to see it already, I encourage you to check out a copy at KPL and watch it again. You’re bound to catch something you didn’t see or hear the first time.

And if you haven’t seen it yet but you have even a passing interest in art, filmmaking, and/or personal transformation and spirituality, I promise there’s something in this film for you.


Women's History Month Highlights

March is Women’s History Month and so in keeping with the theme of highlighting the achievements and contributions of women involved with movie-making, here’s a list of writers, directors and some of their groundbreaking works.

Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma)
Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)
Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture)
Maya Deren (Maya Deren: Experimental Films)
Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own)
Allison Anders (Border Radio)
Claire Denis (White Material, Bastards)
Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)
Ida Lupino (The Hitchhiker)
Elaine May (The Birdcage, A New Leaf)


A Birdman in the Hand Is Worth 4 Oscars in the Bush

I’m not gonna lie: As much as I personally loved Academy Award Best Picture winner Birdman more than expected winner Boyhood, I’m still shocked that the artsy and eccentric tale of a washed-up superhero actor trying to do “legitimate theater” (and please in your head imagine that pronounced as “theee-ATER”) beat out the wholesome, relatable, coming-of-age tale that was filmed over the course of twelve years.  I’m certainly happy for Birdman—just not so happy about what it did to my Oscar pool.  In addition to Best Picture, Birdman picked up wins for Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo).

In case you’d like to catch any of the other available Oscar winners that you may have missed, I’ve listed them below. Click on the links and place a hold on a copy today.

  • My favorite film of the year, Whiplash, picked up three wins for Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Film Editing (Tom Cross), and Best Sound Mixing.
  • Many people won for working on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel—except poor Wes Anderson himself; the film won for Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero), Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen), and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
  • Be sure to check out Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything; it was a well-deserved win.
  • Boyhood's lone win was for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette).
  • Disney’s Big Hero 6 won for Best Animated Feature; the Best Animated Short winner, Feast, can be found on the Big Hero DVD or Blu-ray.
  • Best Foreign Film winner Ida is amazing and you should watch it--regardless of your unfortunate and snooty hatred of subtitles.

The following winners will be released soon and are available for holds now:

Keep checking back for Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore won Best Actress, Selma, which featured Best Original Song winner “Glory” by John Legend and Common, and must-see Best Documentary Feature winner CitizenFour.  We don’t have releases for these titles yet, but we will assuredly carry them.

 


Memphis

"You find glory alone by yourself with nobody around"

The very indie movie Memphis uses the stylistic touches of documentary to explore the fictional inner world of a talented but emotionally troubled bluesman attempting to handle expectations while recording an album. Serious in tone yet lyrical in its poetic rendering of both our subject’s inner angst and the city’s discursive flow, Memphis movingly captures fragments and moments of everyday life with a sympathetic gaze upon people and places so often marginalized in contemporary cinema. Recommended for fans of image and subjectivity-driven movies like George Washington, Museum Hours and Tree of Life.


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.     

     

 


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.

 


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.

 


Top Critics: 20 Best Films of 2013

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.

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Before Midnight
  4. The Act of Killing
  5. A Touch of Sin
  6. Leviathan
  7. Gravity
  8. Computer Chess
  9. Frances Ha
  10. Upstream Color
  11. Museum Hours
  12. Blue Is the Warmest Color
  13. Bastards
  14. Spring Breakers
  15. Like Someone in Love
  16. Stories We Tell
  17. Her
  18. Nebraska
  19. American Hustle
  20. The Grandmaster

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Nebraska
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