Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Federico Fellini’s most well-known film and a classic of Italian cinema, 8 and 1/2 continues to stand-up as a trailblazing film that introduced viewers in 1963 to an overly self-conscious form of storytelling that mixes fiction, memoir and dreamy surrealism together as a prophetic statement about the nature of celebrity, the mass media and the pressure to create art even when uninspired. Self-referential, wildly imaginative and irreverent, this classic film points the finger at the film industry and increasingly aggressive media while humorously mocking the hollowness of fame. Poking fun at both himself and his critics (both Catholics and Communists), Fellini delights in highlighting the absurdity and emotional alienation of those forced into positions of creating successful commerce while their personal life grows increasingly dysfunctional. See a trailer here.
8 and 1/2
I am just smitten with Call the Midwife. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, this BBC-produced series takes us back to the beginning of Worth’s career as a nurse-midwife in east end London during the post-war 1950s. We see her first arrive at Nonnatus House, where she and several other midwives minister to the varying social and health needs of their patients and families.
Jessica Raine portrays Jenny as kind, caring, and extremely sheltered. She knows naught from personal experience of bug infestations, dealing with the complications of syphilis, the desperation that drives 15-year old girls into prostitution. Over time, she shows her grit, combined with deep compassion, to become a fine midwife.
Still, it’s Nurse Camilla Fortescue Chumley Browne (Miranda Hart,) better known as ‘Chummy,’ who steals the show for me. When we first see her, she quips, “pa used to say ‘long dogs need short names.’” As she struggles to build her nursing skills, wrestles to learn bike riding (their primary form of transportation to their patients,) and overcome Sister Evangelina’s obvious disdain, she grabs the funniest lines and breathtaking moments.
Though based in the ‘50s, the show doesn’t lack for graphic intensity. You’ll see live births and hear the raw, honest language of the EastEnders. Set aside several hours, so you can watch without pause. Fortunately for all of us, the next season is on order and in our catalog, so we can place our holds now!
Call the Midwife
Normally when the character of Veronica Mars calls for backup, she’s summoning Backup, the intimidating canine that accompanies her when she’s heading into a dangerous situation—which, as a sharp-witted, young-adult private investigator in the fictional town of Neptune, California, she often is. But last week, Mars called for backup from a different source: fans of the much-loved, short-lived eponymous television program on which she originated. On April 13th, Veronica Mars the television show—which went off the air in 2007 after a mere three seasons—made headlines when its creator, Rob Thomas (no, not that one), and star, Kristen Bell, launched a Kickstarter project that would fund a feature film, giving new life to a cult classic and furthering the adventures of one of TV’s most beloved heroines.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s a website where motivated folks can announce projects for which they want to raise money—films, music albums, business ventures, etc.—and the general public can contribute donations, usually for some sort of tiered reward. Creators set financial goals and have a limited amount of time (30 or 60 days) to reach them. If they hit their mark, they get all the money they’ve raised to that point; if they fail, they get nothing. The “Veronica Mars Movie Project” set the highest goal in Kickstarter history: they needed to raise two million dollars in 30 days. They did it in 11 hours, becoming the fastest project on the site to hit that amount of money. As of this writing, the project has raised nearly $3.7 million—well over its goal.
If you’ve seen Veronica Mars, there’s a good chance you loved it enough to kick in a few shekels (as I assuredly did). If you haven’t watched the show, then now’s a good time to jump in head-first! Here’s the basic premise: Veronica is a high-school (later, college) student who moonlights as a private investigator for her detective father, Keith. He was once the town sheriff, but was removed from office in disgrace after accusing a local billionaire of killing his own daughter, who was Veronica’s best friend. This made both father and daughter unpopular around town. In each episode, Veronica tackles a mystery, while also investigating a season-long crime. Despite the fact that it never caught on with a large audience, VM developed a strong cult following thanks to its loveable characters, strong plots, clever writing, and hilariously quotable dialogue. So check out the DVDs of all three seasons—you won’t regret it.
While End of Watch’s storyline doesn’t break new ground (Cops vs Drug Cartel) in terms of fresh subject matter, the affecting bond between the two LAPD officers and the remarkable performances delivered by the actors Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal are enough to recommend this gritty, police drama, written by David Ayer (Training Day). See a trailer here.
End of Watch
One of last year’s most electrifying documentaries, The Imposter will leave an indelible mark, if only to remind you how entertaining (and ultimately sad) the interplay between fact and fiction, truth and fantasy can be when linked to a thriller of a story. One cannot describe this film without spoiling much of the suspense but viewers are likely to be both scratching their heads and muttering such things as “really?”, “no way!”, and “are people really that stupid and gullible?” How does a missing 13 year old boy from Texas mysteriously reappear in southern Spain, claiming he’d been kidnapped by military personnel, tortured and sold into slavery, convince the boy’s family and government officials that he is in fact the missing teen? Well, the answer to that and much more will likely leave your head spinning as you consider the subjects’ motivation and capacity to deceive. Fans of the runaway hit Catfish will find a great deal in The Imposter to like. View the trailer here.
In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, be sure to stop in and check out some of the many films that we own that feature the Emerald Isle. We have biographies, history, travel, documentaries and feature length films that highlight the rich and vibrant culture of Ireland.
The Quiet Man
Rattle and Hum
Beckett on Film
The Swell Season
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
My Left Foot
Rick Steves' Ireland & Scotland
A Love Divided
The Butcher Boy
If you like sweet and charming dramas with a pinch of humor, may I suggest the film Liberal Arts. How I MetYour Mother’s Josh Radnor wrote, directed and starred in this film about an increasingly disaffected thirty-something suffering from a bad case of nostalgia for his college days after he finds himself stuck in an emotional rut. After being asked by one of his former college professors (Richard Jenkins) to come back to his Ohio alma mater to attend a retirement dinner, Jesse realizes how much he misses the excitement, innocence and idealism of being nineteen, intellectually hungry and feeling optimistic. Such euphoria leads him to Zibby, a classical music-loving sophomore co-ed (Elizabeth Olsen) who is talented, precocious and drawn to Jesse’s enthusiastic love of books and because he's not the typical college boy she's interested in. As their relationship develops, the issue of their age gap comes into play while Jesse’s former professor struggles with his own anxiety about his post-employment future. Liberal Arts is definitely sappy in places and oozes with maudlin marrow but if you can get past some of the movie’s weaker elements, you’ll find the core of the story’s message about aging with grace relatively well-intended and affecting.
Mary and Max was captivating. It reminded me of the Wallace and Gromit movies. It is a clay animation and makes no effort to make it’s people look life like which I think adds to the movie. The humor is odd and you will either love it or not get it. It is a story of a little girl 8 years old in Australia and a 40 year old pen pal in New York City. The little girl, Mary, is lonely and gets picked on at school. She has a birth mark on her forehead the color of Poo. Her pen pal suggests telling the bully that it is the color of chocolate and that when she gets to heaven she will be in charge of the chocolate and he will not get any. The bully upon being told this, cries. Her dad has a job at the Tea factory tying the strings from the tea bag to the label for Earl Grey tea. Mary thinks she would love to mary someone named Earl Grey some day. Her mother cooks with Sherry and as Mary puts it she is wobbly most of the day. When Mary’s teacher says Mary needs to smile more, her mother gets out her lipstick and draws a smile on Mary’s face. One day at the Post Office she sees a telephone book for New York City, she describes it as a telephone book with a picture of a lady on it with her hand on fire. Mary opens the book and chooses a name at random and writes a letter. The letter was to Max. Max is a nice guy but has a whole host of problems. We find out that he has been in a mental hospital and is subject to anxiety attacks, and has trouble reading people. He has a sketch book he made of people’s faces so he can tell by referring to the book if they are happy or mad or sad. We find later that he has Asperger’s syndrome. Max likes being an Aspie as he calls it and even has a t-shirt with Aspie on it. Max has no friends but he does have a gold fish, Henry the eighth, which later is Henry the ninth etc. as accidents keep happening to the little gold fish. This is a movie you have to see to appreciate.
Mary and Max
Another Oscar season has come to a close, and it was quite a successful one at that. There were very few upsets or surprises, which helped this movie geek dominate his Oscar pool, getting 21 out of 24 correct – a tie for my all-time best. The Academy made up for snubbing director Ben Affleck by awarding Best Picture to the well-deserved Argo. The visually-stunning Life of Pi took home the most of the night with four, including one for director Ang Lee, who managed to turn what many felt was an unfilmable book into a crowd-pleaser. Skyfall became the first James Bond film to win an Oscar since 1965’s Thunderball. Lincoln ’s Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person ever to win Best Actor three times. And Pixar’s Brave just beat out the video-game-themed Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature, which is ironic considering poor Ralph spends his entire movie trying to win a trophy just so people will love him. You’ve earned top score from me, Ralph.
If you’re behind in your Oscar viewing, a handful of these award-winners are available for home viewing now, right here at the Kalamazoo Public Library:
Several of the Oscar winners are coming soon, and you can place a hold on them now:
Check back for the availability of Silver Linings Playbook, winner of Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence); Les Misérables, winner of Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Mixing; and Amour, winner of Best Foreign Film. The release dates of these films will probably be announced soon.
So what did you think of the Oscars? What were you glad to see win? Which categories would you have preferred to go differently? What was your favorite film of 2012?
The Grey is about a plane crash in the Alaska wilderness and the survivors being hunted by wolves. Ottway (Liam) is hired to protect the pipeline guys. They show him shoot a wolf right in the beginning of the movie, thus establishing him as a good shot with a rifle and their defender. I thought The Grey was going to be all about Liam Neeson protecting the survivors of the plane crash and indeed it was but no gun. I guess if he had a gun it would have been too easy. The movie starts out showing the men working on the pipeline, Ottway shoots the wolf then we are in their bar at the base camp and we get sort of introduced to the characters. Then it’s off to the plane and pretty much right away the plane crashes and the movie gets going with its major thrust of surviving the wolves. I mean the movie is called The Grey. Liam organizes the remaining men, a wolf attacks, Liam tells all the men about wolves and that they will hunt in a certain radius of their den etc. thus setting up the rest of the movie. These wolves are HUGE, more the size of a black bear and they are very organized. There is a scene where the men are sitting around the fire and they hear the noise of two wolves in the trees. They say what was that? Liam tells them that was the Alpha male putting down the challenger. Then Diaz, one of the men around the fire, challenges Liam. Why are you in charge? Diaz pulls a knife and wants to fight. Liam, of course, stomps on a fire log, disorients Diaz and beats him. So just like the alpha wolf putting down the challenger so does our human male. Another time they are all around the camp fire and all the wolves start howling. Apparently it sounded real enough that my little puppy perked up and listened and started growling at the television. In a touching moving emotional part of the movie they are all telling stories and Liam recites a poem his dad wrote: “Once more into the Fray. In to the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day” Which reflected what was happening, each day the wolves attacked and killed another survivor. This is a good movie to watch when the snow is blowing and it is cold outside.