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Staff Picks: Movies

Best of the Reissued Movies of 2014

It’s that time of the year to look at some of the notable films that have been restored and re-released back into cultural circulation once more. The Criterion Collection once again represents the gold standard in terms of packaging and supplementing these culturally significant works from the past.

1. The Long Day Closes
2. The Vanishing
3. Charulata
4. The Big Chill
5. La Vie de Boheme
6. Love Streams
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
8. Sundays and Cybele
9. Nostalghia
10. Safe


The Little Guitar in Movies

After watching one of the last episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which one of the characters performs a poignant rendition of the classic ballad La Vie En Rose with a Ukulele, I began thinking about the cinematic role of this Hawaiian instrument (one of my favorites). Several recent films came immediately to mind (Her and Blue Valentine) but after a Youtube search, I discovered a few others films that feature this little guitar’s power to pluck an audience’s heartstrings. For fans of the instrument, check out Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs.

From the movie Her

A compilation of movie scenes: 

 


From Femur to the Outer Reaches

Recent internet buzz about a leaked trailer for the newest installment of the Star Wars series and the release of Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar (in theaters now) got me thinking about the first, great science fiction film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a beautiful enigma of a film that continues to stand up to the test of time given its enduring philosophical and scientific themes, not to mention its visual originality and marked refusal to conform to commercial and artistic conventions. It should be noted that it was not everyone’s cup of tea when it originally opened in movie theaters in 1968 and it’s glacial pacing, minimalist dialogue and conceptual approach to narrative won’t please many of today’s film viewers but for those willing to give into its pondering lyricism and subtle jabs at satire and social commentary, you will be rewarded.


Crazy Train

If the snowy weather’s got you down and you want to watch people who are colder than you are, or if you’re in the mood to wallow in mankind’s devastating effect on global temperatures—or if you just like a good sci-fi action movie—check out the recent South Korean (but mostly English language) release Snowpiercer. Based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, best known for the rollickingly great rampaging monster flick The Host, Snowpiercer is set in a dystopian future where mankind’s attempts to reverse global warming have expedited a new Ice Age that has killed off most life on the planet. The few humans that remain live on the Snowpiercer, a massive train that continuously circumnavigates the globe. Within the train, people are divided into social classes, with the poor living in squalor in the rearmost cars, cruelly lorded over by the wealthiest passengers from the front cars. But a revolution is brewing, as man-with-a-past Curtis (Captain America’s Chris Evans) leads the impoverished on a car-by-car battle towards the engine, with hopes of overthrowing the Snowpiercer’s creator and authoritarian leader, played by Ed Harris.

Shot with cinematic grandeur, Snowpiecer succeeds on many levels: as suspenseful fight-laden actioner; as a dystopian fable; as a commentary on our environmental malfeasance; and, as an acting showcase—Tilda Swinton’s gonzo portrayal of a ministerial henchwoman is worth the proverbial price of admission alone. So check it out—the icy backdrop and chilly social undertones may just be the belly-warming tonic you need to make it through these first few frozen weeks of the season.


Dramas with the White Stuff

Do you love snow and winter? Here are some serious dramas where winter or snow plays a significant role in the plot and setting.

Mon Oncle Antoine
Metropolitan
Fanny and Alexander
The Ascent
A Christmas Tale
My Night at Maud’s
All That Heaven Allows
Downhill Racer
Fargo
The Shining
Frozen River


Sleepwalkers

Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers starts out by having Charles Brady played by Brian Krause get up in front of his class in school and read his paper about Sleepwalkers; a mother and her son and how they have to run from town to town never settling down, how the men would always come to hunt them and thus they give you the whole back story in a nut shell. Just prior to that they had a scene where Charles’ mother is telling him she is so hungry and that he has to find a virgin and bring her home so she can feed. So we know from the get go that they are these are vampire like creatures. Side note: Brian Krause was Leo on Charmed and played an angel. In this role he is the antithesis of an angel. The movie is entertaining and has cameos with Stephen King and Clive Barker which almost makes it worth watching right there. One meant to be over the top humorous scene is when Charles severs the hand of his teacher and says “People should really learn to keep their hands to themselves. Here’s yours” and he tosses the severed hand back to him. I like the way Charles and his mother change into a sleepwalker appearance. It reminded me of the television show Buffy or Angel. Their faces morph into this vampire dog like look. This isn’t the scariest movie, no big suspense build up but it is enjoyable, I especially liked the cameos and the bit overdone humor. This movie is memorable. I was talking with my friend Carlos and he saw it in Spanish. It came out in 1992, he was in the 7th grade at the time and he remembered this movie especially the murdered dead cats and that the Sleepwalkers were scared of cats. For a 7th grader this is a frightening movie.


The Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.

Last Year at Marienbad
Muriel
Citizen Kane
Memento
Fight Club
Big Fish
Rashomon
The Usual Suspects
Possessed
Forest Gump
Atonement
Fallen
American Psycho
Lolita
The Great Gatsby


The Beauty of Everyday Life

Before falling into obscurity, the slice of life documentary Cousin Jules was well-received by critics in the early 1970's. Restored and released again, this wonderful film takes viewers into a world that to contemporary eyes appears primitive and exotic in view of our high-speed, high- tech, consumer society. Back in the 1960’s, those who lived off of the land in provincial France led slow, ordinary lives connected to the earth and to long-established practices. They made their own tools, harvested their own food and wine, ground their own coffee without electricity, accessed water from a well, and in general, lived off the land with a kind of raw independence and austerity that is almost unheard of in today’s postmodern society, one defined by ease, speed and consumerism. The film features Jules, a blacksmith who is short on conversation but whose mundane tasks are mesmerizing as they are without pretense or excess. The viewer is taken inside the routine rituals of everyday life, slowly, tenderly and without artifice or without a structured plot and yet the film feels fresh, a kind of poetic meditation on the nobility of craftsmanship and the humdrum ways of life that have been largely automated.


Persona

Throughout the history of cinema, many filmmakers have attempted to examine the nature of identity and the notion of the ‘self’ but few have made a film as visually rich and haunting as director Ingmar Bergman’s masterful Persona—a tour de force of a movie that when released in 1966 expanded the poetry of film and solidified Bergman as one of the great artists of the medium. For some critics, the film has been viewed as a hypnotic culmination of many of his themes and obsessions. For others, Persona was a confusing, unintelligible and pretentious mess. Time has been very friendly to this influential precursor to films like Mulholland Drive, 3 Women, Black Swan, Fight Club and other psychodramas that portray identity and self as an unfixed, transferable construct that modulates between states of being rather than as a permanent characteristic of the human psyche. This classic  is now on Blu-ray as well as DVD.

Movie

Persona
11049059

Cannes Film Festival Winners

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. 
 
Black Orpheus—1959
The Leopard—1963
Paris, Texas—1984
Blowup—1967
The Conversation—1974
Pulp Fiction—1994
Taste of Cherry—1997
Missing—1982
The White Ribbon—2009
Taxi Driver—1976

Movie

Black Orpheus
10437912