Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
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.
If you have yet to discover our collection of movies that have been shown by the Kalamazoo Film Society you should go and check out the list. Recently I watched The Band's Visit, a short film about an Egyptian Police Band who travels to Israel to play at an Arab Cultural Center opening. The language barrier results in the band taking the wrong bus and they end up in a remote Israeli village with no hotel and no hope of a return bus ride until the next day. What results is an interesting and hilarious night when the tensions between Egyptian and Israeli slip away in favor of semi-romantic dates, roller skating and birthday parties. Both parties not only learn something about the other's country, but also themselves. It was not hard to believe that this film has won over 35 international film awards because it is a lesson in cross-cultural differences.
The Band's Visit
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle’s timeless children’s book about a caterpillar’s daily culinary journey through foods both nutritious and snacky. While subtly being taught the days of the week, counting, and metamorphosis may not be foremost among the memories readers take away from the story, Carle’s signature (now iconic) style of illustration ensures that the butterfly-in-waiting that is the story’s center figure is as recognizable among children of any age as any talking bear, frog, or sponge.
Such a famous story will certainly have its own animated version out on DVD – whether or not the animated telling remains faithful to the book. Thankfully, Scholastic’s animated version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a faithful and appropriate adaptation of the story. Using Carle’s original illustrations, the animation is limited and evenly paced, never jarring the senses. The story is narrated word for word, nothing added and nothing taken away. The male narrator’s voice is soothing but not sleep-inducing, and while it’s no substitute for the voice of a loved one reading the story aloud, it has its charm. (Subtitles are available for those who want to read along as the story unfolds.) The film is as short as the book – it’s over in less than 10 minutes – but for those who want more, adaptations of Carle’s Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and I See a Song are included on the same disc.
Carle’s print version of the story, in its many forms (most fun – an oversized board book with a toy caterpillar that can be moved in and out of the holes of the eaten fruits), is the finest way to enjoy the tale. Still, it’s nice to have an animated version of this classic available, as a calm alternative to the more boisterous cartoon fare which may not suit all ages or moods. In any form, Carle’s vivid colors are sure to amaze those who encounter them as much forty years on, as in forty years past.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories
The votes have been counted, the judges and public have had their say, and we have the winners of the 6th annual Teen Filmmaker Festival! We had a wide range of films entered in the festival this year, and the winning films are a strong indication of the level of quality of the films that were sent in. Take a look on our YouTube page and see for yourself! For more info about the film fest, as well as a complete list of the screened films and winners, check out the Film Fest page in the Teen section.
2009 Teen Film Fest Winners!
The very recognizable but certainly underappreciated Richard Jenkins stars in this quiet independent film about the power of human connection. Jenkins plays widowed economics professor Walter Vale whose life has lost all resemblance of happiness or sparkle until a random encounter with two complete strangers gives him the connection to humanity that he desperately needed to jumpstart his life. The visitor, that the title refers to, turn out to be two undocumented aliens (Tarek who is Syrian and Zainab from Senegal) living illegally yet productively and peacefully in New York City. An unwarranted and random stop by the authorities sends this touching and well paced film off in an entirely new direction from where it started, but the strength of the characters and the strong performances of the cast act as ballast that keeps this very well constructed film moving along to a conclusion that stays with the viewer long after the credits role.