Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
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.
In 2009, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Catching Fire, Taxi to the Darkside) set out to chronicle the comeback of 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. But history was about to be re-written in 2013, forcing Gibney to shelve the project as Armstrong’s legal woes grew and the public’s trust in his well-insulated fraud began to erode. The doping allegations and assertions that Armstrong and his cycling teams were systematically cheating had dogged Armstrong throughout his career, even as his storied fight against cancer and celebrity stardom grew, finally forced the world’s most accomplished cyclist to publically admit to cheating during his run as Tour champion, doing so last year on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Gibney scrapped his original plan for the film and re-worked The Armstrong Lie into a fascinating examination of Armstrong’s storybook ascent to prominence and his Shakespearean fall from grace. Cycling fans will love the insider information about the sport’s well documented history of cheaters and scandal but the film will also appeal to viewers interested in the psychological deconstruction of a man who seemingly had it all but who at the same time, pathologically lied to everyone while building a fortress of corruption around his "narrative". Armstrong apologists, if any exist, will have a difficult time in justifying the means of trickery that Armstrong enacted in order to rationalize the ends. This isn’t just a great piece of schadenfreude but also an engaging study on the power of celebrity, money and the addiction to win at all cost.
The Armstrong Lie
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
Burn is an exhilarating documentary that takes viewers inside the day to day lives of Detroit firefighters, as they confront the enormously dangerous task of stamping out the city’s ceaseless torrent of burning buildings, many of which are the result of arson. The film also explores the tensions within city government and how firefighting services are impacted by Detroit’s dwindling resources, financial woes and political infighting. It’s a great film that is packed with humor, drama and genuine heroism.
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.
These Birds Walk is an unsanitized, visceral portrait of poverty, despair and the day-to-day struggles of an ambulance driver who ferries both dead bodies to and fro as well as transporting young runaways back to their families. Set in a Karachi (Pakistan) orphanage for unwanted and runaway children, the filmmakers have chosen to chronicle their subjects (Omar being the focus) without contextualizing or providing any sort of exposition. Their approach to their subject forces the viewer to become a voyeuristic fly on the wall of the orphanage, observing the young boys as they play, fight, laugh and confess the hopelessness of their lives. Viewers are also taken on a bumpy, chaotic ride through the busy streets of Karachi with an ambulance driver who works for the orphanage and who compassionately talks with the young boys. He sympathizes with their struggles because he too was once in the same situation. It’s easy to understand from simply reading the depth of despair on the faces of these children, how one living in these kinds of inhumane circumstances could be seduced by criminality or religious extremism. Their options are limited and they are under no illusions about their life’s trajectory. As grim a depiction of contemporary poverty as the film is, there are moments, albeit brief, where we glimpse the kindness of a stranger and the power it can wield.
These Birds Walk