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Staff Picks: Movies

Election Season

With another presidential election cycle upon us, I noticed the documentary Please Vote For Me on display in the lower level.  The office open is class monitor for a 3rd grade class in a school in Wuhan, China, having its first democratic election.  

As they navigate the challenge of giving speeches, sharing a talent, participating in debates, and other activities to win votes; there are plenty of laughs, a lot of tears and occasionally some shouting.    

I found the interactions with the parents to be the most fascinating parts as they often gave advice that I was not expecting.  Also, when their children were ridiculed or treated poorly, they usually coached them on being tougher and shrugging it off, rather than going to the school to ask them to not allow such behavior.  

Who will win?  Cheng Cheng with charisma to spare, strict Luo Lei with powerful parents, or Xu Xiaofei the courageous underdog candidate.  

I watched this with my 10 year old daughter and 12 year old son and they really enjoyed it and it led to some good conversation about election tactics and cultural differences.  

When the Period Piece Ruled

Merchant Ivory Productions (director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant) was a leading force in the popularizing of period dramas, often centered around British characters and typically adapted from canonized, literature (Henry James, E.M. Forster, Edward Albee, Kazuo Ishiguro e.g.) during the late 1980's and early 1990's. By the mid-90's the quality of their productions began to decline as interest in the lives of repressed, stuffy British folk fell out of fashion. As The Criterion Collection prepares for the release of a newly restored version of A Room with a View, cultural Anglophiles can access the best of their productions by checking out, Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, and Maurice.

IRL PT.2: Bathroom Noises

In part one of my series on unique and important documentaries, I wrote about The Act of Killing, a film that tackled the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s, the perpetrators of which are still in power to this day, never having faced consequences for their heinous crimes. This month, I want to discuss a revelatory true-crime docuseries, the subject of which has also eluded any kind of adequate punishment.

A lot of attention was paid this year to HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst—in no small part due to the arrest of the titular subject one day before the final episode was broadcast. If you’re unfamiliar with Durst, he is the wealthy and eccentric black sheep of a New York real estate dynasty who has been suspected of three murders: his wife who has been missing since 1982; a longtime friend who may or may not have assisted him in the disappearance of his wife; and an elderly neighbor whom Durst dismembered while on the lam in Galveston, Texas, where he was hiding out dressed as a woman. Durst himself approached director Andrew Jarecki about doing an interview; Jarecki had previously made a fictionalized version of Durst’s story in the film All Good Things, which starred Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Durst believed Jarecki could be the right guy to help clear his name. Needless to say, Durst’s lawyers weren’t thrilled with the idea of putting a camera on him—and for good reason.

The six-part series is a well-researched and finely-crafted true-crime documentary, but what makes The Jinx so unique is Durst himself: the man is a blinking, jittery study in sociopathy. In interviews, his face is a map of deceit and misdirection; and when confronted with damning evidence in the final episode, Durst exhibits a strange, uncontrollable burping—a physiological manifestation of guilt not dissimilar from the violent retching seen by the mass murderer at the center of The Act of Killing. The real coup de grâce against Durst comes, however, a few moments later, when he visits a restroom unaware that his microphone is still hot. I’ll leave you to discover his final solitary confessional for yourself, but I can assure you, there’s never been a moment like it on film before.


The Magnificent Ambersons

After watching the illuminating and highly entertaining documentary Magician: the astonishing life and work of Orson Welles, a film timely released to celebrate the centennial birth of the incomparable genius behind the 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane, I thought it compulsory to sing the praises of Kane’s 1943 follow up, The Magnificent Ambersons—just one of many of Welles’ films shrouded in controversy and legend. After the success of Kane, Welles decided again to focus on a rise and fall motif, this time concentrating on the decline of an entire Midwestern family’s fortune and standing as pride, generational conflict and ideological stasis erodes family unity. It’s a great film as it stands but there are many Welles purists who would argue that the “real” work has yet to be seen. After completing a rough cut of the film, Welles departed to Brazil in order to work on a wartime film called It’s All True. While overseas, RKO Radio Pictures (the studio) took over production of the film, including re-cutting the original and shooting additional scenes against the protestation of Welles. It has been argued that the Welles cut differs dramatically with the studio version, including the ending of the film and overall tone.

The King Speaks: The true story behind the film

Queen Elizabeth II is currently Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 25, on June 2, 1953, a year after the death of her father King George VI. Her father was nicknamed Bertie by his family. Bertie was a shy man and he had a lifelong speech impediment: he stuttered. He didn’t like public speaking. Bertie was the second eldest child of George V. Bertie wore leg braces as a result of being knock-kneed. He was left handed, but he was forced to write with his right hand. Bertie’s older brother was much more suited for being king, he was elegant, self-assured, and confident. He became King Edward VIII. Unfortunately, he became involved in scandal and abdicated the throne. Now, Bertie was next in line and he became the King of England. It was a time of new radio technology which meant that the king had to speak into a huge microphone which broadcast to millions of listeners, it was also the dawn of World War II.

For years prior to taking the throne Bertie had had several different speech therapists who attempted working with him to overcome his stammer, but they didn’t accomplish the goal. Bertie’s wife, The Duchess, truly wanted to help her husband overcome his stuttering. She enlisted the help of Lionel Logue, an unorthodox Australian speech therapist who worked with King George VI. The two worked diligently together for years on voice exercises, breathing from the diaphragm, and repeating tongue twisters over and over! Logue actually taught voice to actors. He was with the King when he publicly addressed millions via radio broadcast. Logue was like a really good director in a play, he was not forceful, he was a friend. The Duchess attended the King’s speech therapy appointments so that she could keep the voice exercises going while they traveled away from Logue and London, wherever the King delivered public speeches. Bertie began to overcome his stammer. He had confidence in himself. 

The King Speaks: The True Story Behind the Film (DVD 941.084 K544) is a 50 minute documentary that contains actual footage from King George VI of England’s historic speeches. This documentary ought to be paired with the dramatic DVD movie titled: The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth as King George VI, Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Duchess. The King’s Speech is an excellent dramatic portrayal of Bertie’s and Logue’s professional relationship and lifelong friendship.


Mad Men(1)

The AMC drama Mad Men's final season will be released in less than a month and so be sure to catch up on this series that explores the cultural and personal inner workings of the advertising industry from the late 50's to the early 1970's. Actor Jon Hamm was awarded the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama last night, a fitting tribute to a dynamic show that featured flawed but lovable characters journeying through their personal crises along side the broader, evolving social landscape that saw the rise and decline of the counter-culture and the ascent of the mass media and the power of marketing.

Napoleon does whatever the flip he wants

This is probably the best blog I've ever done. I spend like three hours on the shading of the first sentence.

One of my favorite movies of all time, the dialog takes me back to childhood thinking like never before. The one-liners are funny, weird, ridiculous, nostalgic. The plot is a delivery mechanism, nothing more. The person who wrote the script is brilliant and the actors execute perfectly. From uncle Ricco eating all the steaks, Kip chatting with babes all day (and besides, he's also training to be a cage fighter); to Pedro, who can grow a mustache in like a day or two; Grandma, who broke her coccyx at the dunes; the pet alpaca Tina who eats cassaroles; and of course Napoleon, who likes ligers (bred for the their skills in magic) and who does whatever the flip he wants!

If you are normal, don't watch this movie. You won't like it.

Dazed and Confused 22 Years On

Appropriately selected as part of the Criterion Collection, Richard Linklater's celebratory portrait of 1970's high school culture is one of his best films and the one that introduced the world to future stars Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Matthew McConaughey. Much of the film centers around the stereotypical activities of rebellious and anxiety-ridden kids as school gets out for the summer. The freshman students worry about the hazing rituals they'll face and the seniors fret about their future while still taking time out to party to classic rock anthems. It's a loving and personal work about youthful dreaming as much as it a hilarious look at the absurd yet significant moments young people go through before adulthood kicks in.

Expendables 3

If you liked The Expendables 1 and 2 you will like The Expendables 3. Expendables 1 we got introduced to the team and blew things up and shot a whole bunch of bullets. In Expendables 2 they added a lot of poking fun at each other’s characters, using each other’s catch phrases. Someone other than Arnold saying “I’ll be back”. And they blew things up and shot a whole bunch of bullets. In Expendables 3 it starts out with the old team on a mission but then they introduce a new younger team. I think they are looking to make future movies with this new team. There are jokes about getting old. In the end the old team rescues the new team then merges with the new team and they blow things up and shoot a whole bunch of bullets and throw a lot of knives. I enjoyed it and so will you. Check it out at KPL

The Score, the Color, the Romance

While it was his inspired Chungking Express that put the career of Wong Kar-wai on the cultural map, it was his masterful work In the Mood for Love (2000) that cemented his reputation as a major director. The film tells the story of a repressed romance between two married neighbors who discover a secret about their spouses. Visually sumptuous in its use of costume, lighting and color, the style and setting of early 1960’s Hong Kong is perfectly expressed. Never has the unspoken feelings of characters burdened by desire and longing been so poetically depicted. Propelled onward by a reoccurring musical score that encapsulates the film’s themes and images, In the Mood for Love has been deemed one of the 50 best films ever made by Sight and Sound magazine.