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Staff Picks: Movies

You Ransom, You Lose Some

Life of Crime is not an official prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but it’s okay to pretend it is. Both films are based on Elmore Leonard books (The Switch and Rum Punch, respectively) and feature two of the crime novelist’s recurring characters, ex-cons and criminal cohorts Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara. Mos Def and John Hawkes take over these roles—originally played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown—and give you a glimpse at the earlier days of their illegal antics.

Set in Detroit in the late 1970s, Life of Crime follows Ordell and Louis as they hatch an ill-fated plan to extort money from corrupt real-estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) by kidnapping his wife, Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), while he’s away on business. Unfortunately for the kidnappers—and for Mickey—Frank is actually off in Florida with his mistress (Isla Fisher), and when he hears that his wife is in mortal peril if he doesn’t pony up a million dollar ransom, Frank sees this as an opportunity to escape what was a failing marriage without having to face a costly divorce and steep alimony payments. Things are further complicated as Frank’s mistress hijacks the hostage negotiations, the white supremacist-slash-gun nut harboring Mickey grows dangerously unstable, and Louis begins to develop feelings for Mickey even though he may be forced to kill her.

Directed by Daniel Schechter and co-starring Will Forte and Mark Boone, Jr., Life of Crime deftly captures the pulpy crime and oddball humor of the best Leonard adaptations and would make for a great double feature with Tarantino’s masterpiece, even if the two are related only in spirit.

 


Fetch

The whole dystopian thing may have reached the point of oversaturation in our popular culture: zombies, givers, hunger gamers, diverging, purging, maze running—we’ve had so much of it, the genre’s bound to regress into some sort of metaphorical mass-market post-apocalyptic wasteland of itself. And yet this summer’s underappreciated gem The Rover is so delicate in its vision, so realistic in its squalor, you may forget you’re watching something taking place ten years after a catastrophic global economic collapse. Set in the Australian outback, the film depicts a world of desolation and lawlessness, of dog-eat-dog survivalism; there’s no fantasy or sci-fi to this wasteland—this is what real dystopia is going to look like.

Amidst this societal decay is Eric (Guy Pearce), a drifter whose life is as hollow and ruinous as the world around him. While passing through the middle of nowhere, Eric encounters thieves who are fleeing from a botched robbery, and they steal his car. Taking the last possession of a man with nothing left to lose proves to be a bad move on their part, as Eric begins a dogged pursuit to retrieve his vehicle with the steely vigilance of a Terminator. Just when he thinks he’s lost the trail, Eric comes upon a wounded man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be the brother of one of the thieves—badly injured in the robbery, they left him for dead. Eric takes Rey hostage and demands he be led to where his brother’s gang will be hiding out. Rey is the one man who can help Eric get back the last thing in his life that he cared about, but will he be more trouble than he’s worth?

Written and directed by David Michôd, who also made the excellent, Academy Award-nominated crime drama Animal Kingdom, The Rover is suspenseful and well-acted (Pearce is always reliable and Pattinson goes a long way to make you forget all the sparkly vampire paint he used to wear). The gritty world is richly detailed in its bleakness, and the final shot, though some may find it divisive, is a pitch perfect elegy to companionship and a dirge to life before the world collapsed under the weight of selfishness and greed.

 


Top Critics: 20 Best Films of 2013

In case you needed one last, post-Oscars list to use for upcoming checkout's. According to a survey of the editors and contributors of Film Comment magazine, these are the Top 20 films of 2013. Some have been released on DVD and others have yet to hit the shelves.

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Before Midnight
  4. The Act of Killing
  5. A Touch of Sin
  6. Leviathan
  7. Gravity
  8. Computer Chess
  9. Frances Ha
  10. Upstream Color
  11. Museum Hours
  12. Blue Is the Warmest Color
  13. Bastards
  14. Spring Breakers
  15. Like Someone in Love
  16. Stories We Tell
  17. Her
  18. Nebraska
  19. American Hustle
  20. The Grandmaster

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Nebraska
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Small Movie, Big Punch

What happens when one of the staff persons charged with helping young people overcome trauma, neglect and abuse at an at-risk juvenile home is quietly suffering from her own painful past? This is the question at the center of this wonderful, little film propelled by strong acting performances and a deft touch at balancing grim subject matter with moments of levity and humor. Grace, played by a fantastic Brie Larson, and her devoted boyfriend Mason work together to help kids manage their feelings and cope with the cards they’ve been dealt. But her strength of character and compassionate heart alone are of little use when it comes to facing her own feelings of fear, anxiety and anger. Short Term 12 proves again that a film’s success is in no way related to the number of celebrity actors, use of CGI or amount of super hero characters. Sometimes, going small produces large rewards.

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Short Term 12
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2014 Teen Filmmaker Festival winners!

Another amazing Teen Filmmaker Festival has come and gone, with a huge range of films in many categories- comedy, horror, drama, documentaries, and more. 400 film-loving fans showed up on February 23rd to watch the Fest in person, but if you missed the Festival itself, don't worry- you can see all of the entries and all of the winning films at the KPL YouTube channel! Public Media Network will also re-broadcast the Festival in it's entirety so you can see the films in the comfort of your own living room. Thanks again to all of the directors who submitted films this year!

Here's the complete list of winning films:

Eros and Psyche, Haley Labian - Best Film and Best Animation
Almond Eyes, Samuel Peters and Jake Lamons - Best Experimental Film
The Worst Christmas, Nathan Ginter - People's Choice and Judge's Choice awards
Fireworks, Alexi Mitchell - Best Short Film
Gull Lake Winter 2013, Jake Lamons - Best Technical Merit and Best Music Video
Far Beyond the Reservoir, Jonathan D'Ambrosio - Best Cinematic Merit

Book

Teen Filmmaker Festival 2014
teen-filmmaker-fest-2014-160
http://www.kpl.gov/teens/filmmakerfest/

Who Did It?

About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films. 

 
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films:  Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.

 
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.

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Paradise Lost: Purgatory
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In Space, No One Can Hear Sandra Bullock Lose an Oscar

Sandra Bullock may have taken on deadly space debris in Best Picture contender Gravity, but it’ll likely be Cate Blanchett that destroys her chances at winning a second Oscar come Sunday, March 2nd.  That’s right, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony is less than two weeks away, which mean now’s the time to catch up on all those critically-acclaimed movies you’ve been meaning to watch.  Thankfully, the Kalamazoo Public Library is here to help with this list of all the Oscar-nominated films that you can check out from us right now:

 Several more Oscar contenders will be available on DVD or Blu-ray very soon:

  • With 10 nominations (including Bullock’s), Gravity (available February 25th) will be a force to be reckoned with on Oscar night.  It has a great shot at winning Best Picture and Director (Alfonso Cuarón) and is also the front-runner for technical categories like Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.  The film was also recognized for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.
  • Also out on February 25th is Nebraska, which welcomed nominations for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Actor (Bruce Dern), Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.

 These Oscar contenders will be available in March, and you can place a hold on them right now:

Keep an eye out for the rest of the nominees, which are sure to follow.  In the meantime, come on down to KPL and start prepping for Oscar night!

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Gravity
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2014 Teen Filmmaker Festival!

The 11th annual Teen Filmmaker Festival is fast approaching, and the entries are starting to arrive! As always, the Festival is looking for the best teen-produced and directed films. Every year, we get tons of amazing films from talented Michigan teens and we're super-excited to see what you'll come up with this year. Films are due January 18th, so don't delay- put the finishing touches on that masterpiece and send it to the Teen Services department ASAP! For more information, check out the Teen Filmmaker Festival page.

Book

Teen Filmmaker Festival 2014
teen-filmmaker-fest-2014-160
http://www.kpl.gov/teens/filmmakerfest/

Sleepwalk with Me

Sleepwalk with me is about a comedian who has REM disorder disease. Matt is a comedian who is currently working as a bartender and Abby is his girlfriend. They go to his sister’s engagement party and his parents and friends are putting pressure on him to get married. His sister had been seeing her guy for only two and half hears while Matt has been with Abby for eight years His girlfriend is great, can sing, people love her. I think one of the telling lines is when Matt tells his sister everyone thinks Abby is amazing; mom and dad think she is amazing, our friends think she is amazing. I think everyone thinks the best thing about my life is my girlfriend. Matt is not ready for marriage and the pressure causes him to sleepwalk. At his parent’s house during a sleep walking episode he thinks the hamper is a jackal and he is kicking it. Matt gets an agent and she sends him on some comedy gigs. They are scattered about the east coast and involve a lot of driving and time away from home. He becomes exhausted and the sleep walking episodes get worse. His comedy, however, gets better. At one comedy club a veteran comedian talks with him off stage and Matt makes a joke about marriage. The veteran says that’s funny you should use it in your show. Matt’s comedy gets funnier as he jokes with the audience about marriage, making fun of it. One night Abby comes home at 4 am very drunk and starts to pack a suitcase, Matt wants her to stay and agrees to get married in the summer. As we watch Abby plan for the wedding and Matt touring and doing his comedy act we see his sleepwalking progress until finally he thinks a missile is coming at him (signifying the upcoming wedding) and he jumps out of a second story window. This is a deadpan humor type of story; the most humorous parts are his sleepwalking dreams. It’s a real type of story, real issues, real struggles, real relationship problems, with comedy sprinkled in especially in the sleepwalking dreams.

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Sleepwalk with Me
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Chely Wright, Wish Me Away

There are many times in life when we take an action that cannot be undone, and in so doing, head down one fork in the road, never to possibly return to the other path again. I was struck, watching Chely Wright, Wish Me Away, how real that is when someone comes out. Ms. Wright, popular country music singer-songwriter, CMA winner, was raised in a conservative God-fearing home and community. As a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a country music star and she determined to work heart and soul to reach that goal. At the same time, she recognized her crushes on girls and prayed that God would help her somehow overcome her feelings, that God wouldn’t let her be gay.

The documentary incorporates interviews with primary people in Wright’s life (family members, other creative collaborators, people from her hometown,) heart-wrenching homemade videos created by Wright during some of her most despairing moments, plus footage of Wright meeting with her spiritual advisor and, later, her publicist.

Wright’s coming-out process was exquisitely choreographed. The release of her autobiographical book, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, this movie and numerous public interviews (with Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and others) were all scheduled to happen one real close together, for maximum exposure. In one interview, Rosie O’Donnell bluntly states: “You’re out, honey….You’re out all day. You’re out forever!”

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Chely Wright, Wish Me Away
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