Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
This is following upon Ann's earlier post about the depth and diversity of our film and television collection. I'd also like to point to the marvelous array of foreign language movies and in particular those that have been released by the Criterion Collection. There is no better way to introduce yourself to the rich body of world cinema then to explore Criterion's growing pool of cult films, many of which have never found a broad audience here in the United States. I'm referring to Larisa Shepitko's heartbreaking The Ascent (Russian), François Truffaut's memorable new wave coming of age story The 400 Blows (French), Hong Kong action hits like John Woo's The Killers (Cantonese), the highly influential masterpiece Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa (Japanese), and Steven Soderbergh's provoking narrative about drug trafficking Traffic (Spanish/English).
Essential art house. Rashomon [videorecording]
Looking for a great film to watch after the kids have sleepily gone to bed after tearing open their gifts? Cozy up with a leopard skin Snuggie and warm glass of egg nog and put in a dvd of one of these critically acclaimed films.
Gregory Nava’s masterpiece El Norte, often cited as an updated and re-imagined “Grapes of Wrath”, is one of the most hailed and accomplished films of the 1980’s, yet has largely gone unnoticed by the film-viewing public since it was first produced in 1983. Now, a distinguished addition to the must-see Criterion Collection, I hope that this groundbreaking film will find its way into the hands of more viewers and be recognized for its rich and powerful depiction of two young Guatemalan teenagers journeying northward to escape injustice while encountering both personal triumph and heart wrenching tragedy along the way.
El norte [videorecording] = The north
Over the weekend I watched Slumdog Millionaire, English director Danny Boyle’s movie about a poor boy in Mumbai who wins millions on a game show but who is accused of cheating. The movie was the darling of 2009, garnering a boatload of awards, including nine Oscars, five Critics’ Choice, four Golden Globes and seven awards from the British Academy Film Awards. I liked Slumdog Millionaire. It isn’t Danny Boyle’s best work, but it may be his most ambitious. Nor is it the best movie for demonstrating child poverty in Mumbai. A better one is the heart-rending work from 1988 Salaam Bombay.
Danny Boyle creates atmosphere well. Slumdog’s gritty scenes of poverty and desperation reminded of his earlier and perhaps best film, Trainspotting, which follows the gritty, heroin-laced lives of five disaffected boys in Edinburgh.
I also couldn’t help but be reminded of Charles Dickens. I’ve been enjoying Masterpiece Theatre presentations of Dickens’ works over these last few months — David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, and The Old Curiosity Shop. Slumdog Millionaire is a story that Dickens could have written. The brother Salim in Slumdog Millionaire is a chip off the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist. Both lead gangs of child criminals, both answer to dangerous men who manipulate and motivate the boys through their desire for material possessions.
Charles Dickens’ books offered strong commentary on social class and cast light on the awful state of child poverty. His books ultimately caused the enactment of child labor laws. While Slumdog Millionaire is a story that Dickens might have enjoyed, I also think it is one that would have made him sad and frustrated to see the plight of children in today’s world.
Filmmaker and mother, Lori Benson, received a diagnosis of breast cancer and – on a suggestion from her filmmaker husband, Jonathon – decided to have friends film her experience. In Dear Talula, we, the viewers, get to see Benson’s struggles, decision-making, treatment, beautiful relationships with friends, family and one-year-old daughter, Talula. I urge you to take the time – just 34 minutes – to experience this inspiring documentary.
Ms. Benson also travels the country to speak at film screenings. It would be wonderful to see her in Kalamazoo someday.