Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Favorite Things 2013

This year, more so than any other in recent memory, I found myself playing catch-up with last year's "best-of" that I didn't take in much from this calendar year. Basically, I haven't read, listened to or watched enough of anything to make separate lists for each ... so, here's my Top Ten Favorite Things from 2013.

1 & 2. While everyone is talking about AMC, HBO and Showtime and their popular programming, I'm interested in BBC America, which produced two of my favorite television shows this year: Orphan Black and the third season of Luther. One could not find better acting, nor more complicated and well-drawn characters. Bonus: the female characters are strong. Tatiana Maslany (playing 7 characters on Orphan Black) should have been nominated and won an Emmy, and Ruth Wilson (from Luther) is so on point as psychopath Alice Morgan, it actually makes me giddy when she shows up on screen.
3 & 4. The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell and Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I wrote reviews of both a while back, so I won't get into it again. Simply, both are books that stay with you.

5 & 6. I have slacked the most this year in the movie department. I have seen only one movie in the theater and about a handful on DVD. My two favorite films of the year are The Way Way Back and the German film Lore. It was theatrically released in 2012, but out on DVD in 2013, so I'm counting it. Lore takes place at the end of World War II and focuses on siblings who've been abandoned by their Nazi-sympathizing parents and now must confront the harsh reality of losing a war and the propaganda they've been fed. Superb performances from a very young cast and a WWII perspective not often told. The Way Way Back also features a younger actor with potential: Liam James (in the role of Duncan). His interactions with Sam Rockwell made this movie.




7. The album that sticks out to me this year is Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards of Canada. I enjoyed many others (from artists Daft Punk, Phoenix, Local Natives, The National, Quadron, Thundercat, and Cut Copy), but this one I enjoyed the whole way through. And I got sucked in. It's ambient, but not boring.

8-11. Even though I enjoyed the above album as a whole, my favorite songs of the year were Trying to Be Cool by Phoenix, Holy by Frightened Rabbit, Diane Young by Vampire Weekend (love, love, love the ending), and Heartbreaks + Setbacks by Thundercat.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed: 1942-2013

It would be difficult to overstate Lou Reed's contributions to modern music. As founder and lead singer of the most influential rock band of all time, The Velvet Underground, he did more to broaden the lyrical range of popular music than just about anyone since Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan. His formative influence on punk music is undeniable; as essential to punk's progression as Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and The Ramones. Even his voice, which has nothing in the way of technical proficiency, has been endlessly imitated. (Listen to any Sonic Youth record from the '80s or '90s and you'll hear Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon doing their best Lou Reed impression.)

Post-Velvet Underground, Reed collaborated with kindred spirit David Bowie, became a glam-rocker, became whatever is the opposite of a glam-rocker, released an entire album of noise (Metal Machine Music) that is still divisive, and experimented with everything from rap to cabaret. He also cultivated a curmudgeonly public persona that grew more myopic with each passing year. Reed had a special loathing for music critics; many of his interviews seem weirdly tense, even on the page, and he was notorious for blowing cigar smoke in his interlocutors' faces. Given his long-standing antipathy for music journalism, it was downright shocking when earlier this year he published a lengthy review of Kanye West's  album Yeezus. In typical Reed fashion the review was effusive, profanity-laden, and entirely heartfelt.

Lou Reed lived one of those wild American lives that, however improbably, just kept on going. He underwent electroshock therapy as a teenager, experimented with everything that the '60s/'70s New York art-scene had to offer, hung out at Andy Warhol's Factory, struggled with narcotics addiction, remade himself artistically, time and time again, and left a musical legacy that continues to inspire and challenge.

CDs:
The Velvet Underground and Nico (with the Velvet Underground)
The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City (with the Velvet Underground)
The Definitive Collection
The Best of Lou Reed
Coney Island Baby
Animal Serenade
Ecstasy
Metal Machine Music

DVDs:
Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart

Books:
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Creepy Movies for the Season

Some straight-up horror films can come off as ridiculous, so here's some suggestions for films that are just disturbing for one reason or another. Not an exhaustive list, so feel free to add to it in the comments section. What creeps you out?



Cape Fear - Depending on which version you watch, Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro terrorize a family. Find it in the catalog
Fight Club - The first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club ... Find it in the catalog
Full Metal Jacket - The disturbing effects of boot camp and war on soldiers. Find it in the catalog
Lawless - A family of bootleggers defy the law during prohibition in the South. This one is probably the least creepy on the list, however there is one particular scene that I find completely disturbing - someone's throat is cut. Plus the creep factor is heightened by Guy Pearce's performance. Find it in the catalog
Murder By Numbers - Two teenage boys (a young Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) are suspected of murder by a cop with her own demons (Sandra Bullock). Find it in the catalog
No Country For Old Men - Hit-man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) uses an unusual weapon of choice to dispatch his victims. The tension in this film is palpable. Find it in the catalog
Oldboy - This Korean cult classic has a twist like no other twist. (It's been remade by Hollywood and soon to be released in theaters, starring Josh Brolin.) Find it in the catalog
Se7en (Seven) - Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman investigate a serial killer working through the seven deadly sins. The final scene is one that lives in infamy. Find it in the catalog
The Silence of the Lambs - Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) gets help in hunting down a serial killer from another serial killer (Anthony Hopkins). Find it in the catalog


Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Hollow Crown: Richard II

The BBC has long been expert in adapting Shakespeare's stage plays to the screen. Every great Shakespearean actor since the advent of television has made an appearance in these adaptations: Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Laurence Olivier, and countless other esteemed performers. The latest entry in this venerable tradition is The Hollow Crown, an adaptation of the Bard's second tetralogy: Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. These closely connected history plays cover the--sometimes attenuated--reigns of these eponymous English kings: "how some have been deposed; some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; all murder'd".

The first in the series, Richard II, can be summarized as the downfall of a young, wastrel monarch, Richard, and the rise of Henry Bolingbroke, beloved of the people. Given the author of this play, you are right to assume that there are endless layers of complexity to this history tale. In The Hollow Crown, Richard is played by Ben Wishaw, an actor that 007 fans will likely recognize from his role as Q in Skyfall (2012). Wishaw's performance as the doomed king is extraordinarily nuanced, as he alternates between imperious condescension and near-lunatic self-pity.

One of the earliest standout scenes in the adaptation is Richard's combative conversation with John of Gaunt, played by the illustrious Patrick Stewart. Gaunt is ill to the point of death in this scene, and is essentially using his poor health as an excuse to clear his conscience and tell the young king what he really thinks of him. Patrick Stewart is more than twice Ben Wishaw's age and is playing the part of a dying man, yet his repudiation of the young monarch is so forceful, so powerfully conveyed, that I actually felt concern for the wilting king. (Stewart has such gravitas that I'm convinced he could have done justice to any of the roles in this film. Yes, the queen included.)

Bolingbroke, the man that will inevitably take Richard's place on the throne, is a very different type of adversary. He isn't quite the ambitious lord that Richard believes him to be, but rather a man just ambitious enough to allow the forces of history to make him king. Remember, this is Shakespeare we're talking about, so the question of a character's motivation is never a simple thing. Bolingbroke is played by Rory Kinnear, also an alumnus of the 007 series. His performance is far less demanding than that of Richard, the hysteric, but he does a fine job of conveying his character's conflicted loyalties, as well as hinting at his dawning realization: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Richard II is, admittedly, a fairly grim affair. Apart from the king's absurdist self-pity, there is little in the way of humor. But, the following Henry IV plays feature one of Shakespeare's most beloved creations: the corpulent, riotous, corrupter of youth, Sir John Falstaff.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pick Me Up Pictures: Moonstruck

Moonstruck (1987)
Call No.: DVD COMEDY MOONSTRUCK
Find in the Catalog!

In spite of having a big soft spot for 80s romantic comedies (i.e. Tootsie, Broadcast News, anything with John Cusack), I had never gotten around to watching Moonstruck.  I blame it partly on not really seeing Nicholas Cage as a convincing romantic hero and partly on some skepticism about Cher's acting abilities (I should have known not to doubt Cher!).  However, recently I was in the mood to watch something light and fun after watching lots of depressing romance movies from the Guardian's 25 best romance films of all time list (I'm looking at you, Brief Encounter).  So I checked out Moonstruck and was immediately cast under its spell. 

Loretta (Cher) is a widowed bookkeeper in her late 30s.   Her first husband was hit by a bus.  Loretta believes this is because of curse put on her marriage due to getting hitched in City Hall.  When her boyfriend, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) proposes, she accepts but decides to do everything right this time.  Johnny is a nice, middle-aged mamma's boy who Loretta likes but doesn't love.  When he flies off to Sicily to look after his dying mom, Loretta tries to honor his wish to have his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) attend their wedding.   However, things become a wee-bit complicated when Loretta and Ronny wind up in bed together.

Moonstruck gives off the vibe of a modern fairy tale.  From Loretta's strange Italian grandfather walking around with a million dogs to the giant, over-sized full (Cosmo's) moon, the movie definitely has a quirky, magical quality to it.   Probably my favorite aspect of the movie is Loretta's tight knit family.  Olympia Dukakis gives an inspired performance as Loretta's practical but heartbroken mom.  She has some great lines, including advising Loretta that it's good that she doesn't love Johnny because "When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know that they can."  I also really liked that Loretta is a really strong character.  Whether she's making Johnny propose to her on his knees or telly Ronny to "snap out of it" when he confesses his love for her, Loretta certainly doesn't kowtow to the men in her life. 

Overall, this is a super cute movie! Definitely check it out if you want a movie that's light, funny, romantic but also smart and well acted.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Low Wants You To "Stay"


One of the more surprising highlights of this past summer's Pitchfok Music Festival, according to those fortunate enough to attend, was Minneapolis band Low covering Rihanna's hit song "Stay". It's just the kind of unexpected move that can make live performances so exciting. Last week the band uploaded a studio version of their cover, which seems to evidence that the band-members are still quite taken with the song. It is a spare, minimalist recording--just voices and piano--that is entirely in keeping with the band's aesthetic and does a fine job of capturing what makes the original great. Which is pretty much everything that a good cover should be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Title sequence greatness

Title sequences are easy to overlook; they're often taken for granted because it's the time when you go to the bathroom or go get the popcorn. However, I propose that title sequences are one of the best indicators of whether a film or TV show is worth watching, at least when you have no other motivations (starring your favorite actor, based on a book you read, etc.).

Obviously imagery is important, but instead of taking advantage of this moment, most sequences seem to be an afterthought - let's just film some scenery from a helicopter and throw the performers' names over the shots of countryside. Sure, sometimes this b-reel imagery sets up the place, maybe the time, but it's not especially imaginative. When you sit down, you want to be immediately taken somewhere, otherwise it's too easy to become distracted.

There is a reason that movies are scored and music videos exist; music and movies accentuate each other. Good, deliberate music can convey tone and emotion, and is also a place were imagination is welcome. One loophole: silence can also be effective for setting tone.

The last piece of the puzzle is the font and style used for the titles. Type can actually demonstrate emotion and relevance just as much as imagery, since it too is a visual medium. For instance, use a font such as courier, and you might be reminded of a typewriter, thus the 1940s, and therefore a WWII-era spy thriller (or something like that, you get my drift). Well chosen typeface is key to a memorable sequence. Also, how do the titles flow into one another? This can convey the tone of the movie, such as frantic, lackadaisical, quirky, etc.

Originality in all three aspects makes for great sequences. Of course, sometimes there isn't a title sequence-- which can be cool too as long as it's intentional. Check out a list of some personal favorites after the jump ...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Read the Book Before the Movie Comes Out

There are a heap of movies coming out the remainder of the year that are based on books. Here's a breakdown:



August:
2 - The Spectacular Now - based on the teen book by Tim Tharp, stars new It-girl Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller [trailer]
6 - Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters - based on the book by Rick Riordan, Logan Lerman reprises his role as Percy in this second installment [trailer]
21 - The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - based on the teen book by Cassandra Clare, starring Lily Collins [trailer]

 

September:
20 - Wizard of Oz - based on the children's classic by Frank L. Baum, being re-released in 3D [trailer]
27 - As I Lay Dying - based on the classic by William Faulkner, starring James Franco [trailer]
27 - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 - animated movie based on the characters by Judi Barrett, starring Bill Hader [trailer]
27 - Austenland - based on the chick lit book by Shannon Hale (with a wink to Jane Austen, of course), starring Keri Russell [trailer]

 

October:
11 - Romeo & Juliet - based on Shakespeare's play, starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld [trailer]
11 - Horns - based on the novel by Joe Hill, starring Daniel Radcliffe
18 - Carrie - remake based on the book by Stephen King, starring Chloe Grace Moretz [trailer]
31 - 12 Years a Slave - based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor [trailer]




November:
1 - Ender’s Game - based on the popular book by Orson Scott Card starring Asa Butterfield [trailer]
8 - Thor: The Dark World - based on the comic book character by Stan Lee, starring Chris Hemsworth [trailer]
15 - The Book Thief - based on the book by Markus Zusak, starring Sophie Nelisse
15 - The Wolf on Wall Street - based on the autobiographical book by Jordan Belfort, starring Leonardo DiCaprio [trailer]
22 - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - based on the popular teen novel by Suzanne Collins, starring Jennifer Lawrence [trailer]

December:
13 - The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, starring Martin Freeman [trailer]
25 - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - based on the book by James Thurber, starring Ben Stiller [trailer]


Friday, July 19, 2013

A Room With A View

 
A Room with A View (1985).
Call No.:  DVD DRAMA ROOM
Find it in the catalog!

 I've been on an Italy kick lately, because I have been planning a trip there later on this year.  So while I was initially worried that this Merchant Ivory film might be a little bit on the slow and tedious side, I decided to watch it anyway for the spectacular scenery in Florence.  Luckily, A Room with a View proved to be a lively and enjoyable film.  

Set during the Edwardian era and based off an E.M. Forester novel, this 1985 film adaption follows a young British woman, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), as she vacations in Florence for the first time under the supervision of her much older and tightly-wound cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith).  At their hotel in Italy, Lucy and Charlotte become close with several other English travelers including novelist Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench), Reverend Beebe (Simon Callow), and most importantly, the free-spirited Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliot) and his son, George (Julian Sands).  While on the trip, Lucy begins to long for more freedom and finds herself increasing drawn to George, but she is confused by her feelings.  When George passionately kisses Lucy in a field, their embrace is interrupted by a horrified Charlotte, who insists Lucy must leave Florence at once and makes Lucy promise to keep the kiss a secret (lest she be blamed).

 After returning to England, Lucy accepts the proposal of the extremely nerdy Cyril Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis).   Cyril is a more socially suitable match for Lucy than George, but he lacks passion.  Lucy and Cyril share one of the most comically awkward kisses in cinema history, thanks in part to Cyril's pince-nez glasses.  However, her engagement gets tested when Mr. Emerson and George rent a cottage in Lucy's town.  Will Lucy choose George with his enviable bone-structure and vastly superior kisses?  Or stay true to her commitments and marry the annoyingly stuffy Cyril? 

Though the film is almost 30 years old, it still feels fresh.  The cast is superb and it was fun to see these big names actors when they were much younger.  I didn't recognize Daniel Day-Lewis at first and was totally jealous of Helena Bonham Carter's marvelously gigantic hair.  Not being a big Merchant Ivory fan, I was surprised by how much humor was in the film.  There are lots of laughs, including a famous bathing sequence featuring George, Reverend Beebe, and Lucy's brother Freddy (Rupert Graves).  The film is beautiful to look at, very romantic, and I appreciated how all of the characters were treated with empathy.   Even though Cyril's priggishness is often played for laughs, his character is not entirely dismissible and it's obvious that he does genuinely care for Lucy.   Whether you're a fan of well-acted historical dramas, want to armchair travel to Florence, or you just want an excuse to stare at Julian Sands's cheekbones for two hours, A Room With View is definitely worth watching!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini: 1961 - 2013


Beloved actor James Gandolfini passed away yesterday at the age of 51. The accomplished character actor had brought to life many memorable characters over the course of his two decade career on stage and screen (True Romance, The Man Who Wasn't There, Where the Wild Things Are, In the Loop), but he will forever be remembered and revered for his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos. There is very little that can be said about that now-legendary performance that has not been said before; Gandolfini brought nuance, gravitas, and complexity to the character; alternately gruff, charming, venal, well-intentioned, violent, and, to the viewers, frighteningly relatable. Tony Soprano is often cited as the definitive example of just how dark a television character can be; paving the way for Don Draper, Nucky Thompson, and others. The Sopranos was, arguably, the greatest television series of all time; a confluence of outstanding writing, inspired casting, gifted ensemble acting, and a strong overarching vision from series' creator David Chase. James Gandolfini's performance was the centerpiece of that monumental artistic achievement.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Art of the Con

The soon to be released movie Now You See Me, got me thinking about my favorite heist movies. I'm a huge fan of the genre in general because both action and cleverness are used to satisfy the plot. Not only are they a ride for the emotions, but also the mind.

My most beloved of all in this genre is The Sting. A classic con movie set in 1930s Chicago with Paul Newman (sigh...) and Robert Redford. Some other favorites include Ocean's Eleven (2001 version), Confidence, Matchstick Men and The Italian Job. I would also add the films The Prestige, The Lookout, The Brothers Bloom and Bottle Rocket to this list even though they're not straightforward con films. The Brothers Bloom and Bottle Rocket are definitely more quirky and comedic than the other two dramas.

I have yet to see Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (they're on my ever-growing list), but all I've ever read about them points to a superior heist film experience.

Am I missing any? Do you have any favorites? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Actor to Watch: Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch 2011
Although he's already quite well known in the UK and to Masterpiece Mystery fans, Benedict Cumberbatch is poised to break out in the United States this year.  First up, he's appearing as the villain in the new sure-to-be blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness.  Later on this year, he's appearing alongside Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in August: Osage County and in the Steve McQueen directed, Ten Years A Slave, which has one of the best casts around including Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, and *most importantly* Michael Fassbender.  He is also playing controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Fifth Estate

The first film I remember seeing Cumberbatch in was Atonement, where he plays a creepy, creepy character.  He was excellent in that small part, so good in fact, that I initially ignored watching Sherlock because the actor still gave me the creeps.  However, when I finally broke down and watched the series, I was blown away.  Cumberbatch's Sherlock manages to balance the character perfectly, he's intelligent, charismatic, while also amusingly irritating and rude.  Cumberbatch can actually make the act of thinking look compelling on the show, and his chemistry with Martin Freeman's Watson makes the show fun to watch. 

Cumberbatch is an interesting actor, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what he'll do in even bigger roles and movies.  Check out one of his films:

Starter for Ten (2006):  A cute, British slice of life comedy about a working class kid (James McAvoy) as he navigates his first year at Bristol College, joining the academic team and deciding between two girls (Rebecca Hall and Alice Eve).  Cumberbatch plays the uptight academic team leader. 
Find it in the catalog!

Atonement (2007). 
Find it in the catalog!

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).
Find it in the catalog!

The Last Enemy (2008).  A Masterpiece Contemporary miniseries about a researcher Dr. Stephen Ezard (Cumberbatch) who returns home after his brother's death, only to fall for the brother's widow and get involved in an government conspiracy (whoops!).
Find it in the catalog!
 
Four Lions (2010).
Find it in the catalog!

Sherlock!Seasons 1 and 2
A modern update on the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books. Highly recommended!

War Horse (2011):  Steven Spielberg's World War I drama about a boy and his horse, featuring just about every famous Brit you can think of (minus Hugh Grant)!
Find it in the catalog!

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Josh Ritter: The Beast in Its Tracks


Josh Ritter's new album, The Beast in Its Tracks, opens with a minute-long fragment of a song addressed to a former lover: "Last night I saw/Someone with your eyes/Someone with your smile/Someone with your smile/We danced/And I regret that she asked me to/'Cause she didn't have your arms." This image of attempting to move on whilst preoccupied with a former love is the overarching theme of this album. The Beast in Its Tracks feels an awful lot like the songwriter without his mask on; an attempt at confessional - if not autobiographical - work. Musically, The Beast in Its Tracks is in keeping with Ritter's established sound; acoustic guitar, crystal-clear vocals, and strings that enhance the songs without being intrusive. "Bonfire" sounds remarkably like a classic Paul Simon song, and wouldn't sound out of place on any of Simon's early solo records. But this time out there are no third-person narratives about mummies doomed to live and love eternally, or tragic first-person reminiscences of Arctic explorers. What we have instead is a beautiful collection of songs about starting again in the wake of a love affair, and the singer's feelings of exhilaration and ambivalence. There is a tension to the lyrics about starting anew. It's as if Ritter is trying to convince himself that he's okay ("I'm happy for the first time in a long time"), but his misgivings are on display on every song ("I can't pretend that all is well, it's like I'm haunted by a ghost"). I think the key to this recurring theme lies in track nine, "The Apple Blossom Rag". Seemingly recorded live - the song begins with unintelligible whispering near the microphone, and what sounds like plates being cleared in the background - "The Apple Blossom Rag" is bitter, funny, and wistful, all at once, concluding with the heartbreaking self-realization: "Lord, I'm such a fool/For things that sing so sweet and sad/But are so [expletive] cruel." Whether this move toward more personal songwriting proves to be a permanent one for Ritter or a mere detour into "breakup album" territory, The Beast in Its Tracks is well worth your time.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Classic Cinema: Badlands

Badlands recently got the Criterion Collection treatment, and I cannot recommend this film enough. Terrence Malik's first major movie, made in 1973, is a masterpiece that still holds up.

Our introduction to main characters Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) are telling. Kit is collecting garbage and hovers over a dead dog without a hint of emotion, and Holly is in her front lawn twirling a baton-- how much more innocent can you get? This couple embarks on a killing spree road trip which is loosely based on the real-life late 1950s Starkweather-Fugate killing spree.

It's not a particularly gory-violent film, but it's impact lies in the bursts of violence set against a quiet background. It's actually a quiet movie in many respects. Viewers are lulled into the story by the use of beautiful scenery (more on that later), some subtle humor peppered throughout, and a main theme song, Carl Orff's Schulwerk-Grassenhauer, that is playful and childlike, which is perfectly deceiving and strangely perfect. Kit and Holly build this detached world around themselves and when someone threatens it, Kit attacks. They are not socially awkward loners, though. Kit is adept at cultivating a James Dean persona, thinking that his charm will keep him afloat, which it does to a degree. Eventually, Holly just becomes bored, as a fifteen-year-old girl would.


The performances by Sheen and Spacek may very well be the best of their respective careers and is not to be overlooked, but, what I truly love about the movie is the visuals. I could not write up Badlands without mentioning Art Director Jack Fisk. I believe that he's as much responsible for the greatness of this film as Malik. Fisk is a master as conveying the simple beauty and struggle of landscape. Check out There Will Be Blood for further confirmation of this man's genius. (Also, Fisk met his future wife, Sissy Spacek, on this film.)

If you're already a fan of the film, be sure to checkout the 40 minute making-of documentary on this disc, which includes present day interviews with Sheen, Spacek, and Fisk.
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Films featuring Libraries and Librarians


 In honor of National Library Week, check out a movie about libraries!  Below are some famous movies featuring libraries and librarians:

The Time Traveler's Wife (2010):  Based off the Audrey Niffenegger weeper, this movie follows the tortured but passionate romance of artist Claire and librarian Henry.  Personally, I'd recommend reading the book over watching this movie, but Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana do look fantastic!
Find this film in the catalog!

The Hollywood Librarian (2009):  This documentary looks that different images of librarians and libraries in American movies.
Find this film in the catalog!

The Station Agent (2004):  The so-hot-right-now Peter Dinklage made his big break in this indie sleeper.  Michelle Williams plays his love interest, a local librarian who is unhappily pregnant by her good-for-nothing boyfriend.
Find this film in the catalog!

Miranda (2003):   John Simms (from the British miniseries State of Play) plays a librarian who falls for a mysterious but comely library patron (Christina Ricci). 
Find this film in the catalog!

The Mummy (1999):  In this action thriller,  Rachel Weisz plays a beautiful but clumsy librarian at the library of Alexandra.
Find this film in the catalog!

Wings of Desire (1987):  This Wim Wenders masterpiece features one of the most famous library scenes ever in  the Berlin State Libary (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin). For the angels in the film, who can hear humans' thoughts, the library is one of the loudest places in the city.  This is a spectacularly beautiful film, highly recommended!
Find this film in the catalog!

Breakfast Club (1985):  What's a fate worth than death for a high school student?  Having to spend Saturday in the school library!  Check out this John Hughes classic and have Simple Minds stuck in your head all day.
Find this film in the catalog!

Ghostbusters (1984):  This classic 80s sci-fi comedy has lots of great scenes in the New York Public Library, including a librarian ghost who mysteriously stacks books!
Find this film in the catalog!

The Music Man (1962):  Featuring Marian the Librarian, queen of all librarian stereotypes.  She shushes, wears her hair up in a bun, and has spiffy glasses.  But when she takes down her hair, she's a total babe!
Find this film in the catalog!

Desk Set (1957):  Watch the sparks fly between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in this romance set in television reference library!
Find this film in the catalog!

It's a Wonderful Life (1956):  Without George Bailey around, Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) is forced to live her life as a librarian.  The horror!  The horror!
Find this film in the catalog!

For further celebration, check out some fiction and non-fiction books featuring libraries and librarians!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

Everyone has a favorite memory of beloved film critic Roger Ebert; whether it's a clever remark he made on his long-running television show, a favored sentence from one of his thousands of movie reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, a passage from one of his many books, or a cherished personal encounter with a man who was, by all accounts, friendly and approachable and happy to discuss the movies with anyone who was interested.

My own favorite memory of Roger Ebert comes from an old episode of Siskel and Ebert and The Movies that aired sometime in the late '80s. The format of the show was simplicity itself; Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel would alternately introduce a film that was currently playing in theaters, some clips would be shown, the two critics would share their impressions of the film, maybe some banter, and then a verdict would be rendered: thumbs up or thumbs down. That was it. And you always kind of hoped that they'd disagree on the film in question. When the two disagreed, you got a fuller sense of what they really thought of the film, good or bad. There was something charming about the way they wanted each other to appreciate what was unique about a given film, or what made it uniquely awful.

I would've been about ten years old when this particular episode aired. In addition to reviewing whatever Hollywood films were current that week, none of which I remember, there was a review of Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Santa Sangre. And these were, unquestionably, the strangest, most unsettling images I had seen in my life to that point. I remember Ebert, in voice-over, explicating a scene where an armless woman was playing the piano with the aid of her son, who had slipped his arms through the sleeves of his mother's dress. There was something off-kilter in the acting, and the candle-lit set appeared baroque, almost operatic. The succeeding images were dreamlike and menacing, evocative of dark mysteries that I couldn't possibly understand. Needless to say, Ebert gave it a thumbs up.

That peculiar memory resurfaced at the news of Roger's passing, those four or five minutes of a decades-old episode. I've been thinking about that, how appropriate it is that Roger Ebert used his popular weekly TV show to highlight a little-known art-film about magic, vengeance, and religious fanaticism, directed by a Chilean-French filmmaker whose name almost certainly meant nothing to the vast majority of viewers. Roger Ebert loved the movies. Big movies and small ones, great movies and otherwise. Roger Ebert loved the movies. It was an enduring, lifelong love-affair, and we were fortunate to share it with him.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Join the realm!

If you are a fan of Game of Thrones, like I am, you most definitely are looking forward to the third season, which starts on Sunday, March 31. I've grown more and more excited each week and am currently in the middle of re-watching Season 1 and Season 2 to get ready. While seasons 1 and 2 covered the story lines from the first books in author George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, season 3 will cover roughly the first half of the 973-page third book, A Storm of Swords.

No spoilers here: A Storm of Swords. Is. Awesome. And heartbreaking. And captivating. And full of surprises. I can't wait to see how the actors, writers, and directors bring this book to life. 

It is known that Game of Thrones includes a long list of characters and settings to keep straight. Do you know the sigil of each house?

House Baratheon: Ours in the Fury
House Bolton: Our Blades are Sharp
House Lannister: Hear Me Roar (unofficial: A Lannister Always Pays His Debts)
House Martell: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
House Mormont: Here we Stand
House Stark: Winter is Coming
House Tully: Family, Duty, Honor
House Targaryen: Fire and Blood

At jointherealm.com you can create your own house sigil by customizing the banner background, text, and icons. Here is the sigil I created. There was no squirrel icon available, so I settled on a food theme:


Have fun designing your house sigils!