Into the Cold
Into the Cold is one of the most interesting DVDs I've seen in a long time. It chronicles the attempt by Sebastian Copeland and Keith Heger to recreate the epic trip by Admiral Byrd to the North Pole in 1909. Copeland and Heger undergo rigorous physical training in Duluth, Minnesota, to acclimatize themselves. Sponsors have to be lined up, and once everything is ready to go, they pack up and fly to a remote location to begin the journey. They undertake the 400-mile trip across the frozen ice cap across the desolate, but somehow beautiful, Antarctic "desert" with a 300lb sled containing enough food for 6 weeks. The pair burn 7,000 calories apiece per day as they aim to travel about 13 miles per day. They have to contend with brutally cold temperatures (-45 degrees F), cutting winds and overcast skies, which reduce everything to a white landscape. The sun never sets, but hangs just above the horizon. I was struck by the fact that once you reach the geographic North Pole, no matter what direction you head in, you're headed south! Their isolation gives them the opportunity to turn inward and reflect on their spirituality. Yet, they still rely on technology in the form of cellphones and tablets to keep in touch with the outside world. Copeland laments that this might be the last time such a trip can be undertaken as the polar ice cap is melting due to global warming.
They encounter many challenges in the form of rubble areas and pressure ridges (which create big hills of ice blocks), water breaks (which force them to alter their course) and arctic drift (which moves them slowly south away from the Pole.) Copeland points out that the massive power at work in the ice and water could be tapped for renewable energy.
The film is masterfully done. Copeland does a great job narrating the journey, and the photography is exceptional. You really feel like you're there with them. As Copeland points out, it's one of the last true frontiers on earth. Unless man takes immediate action, this environment (and ecosystem) may be lost forever.
Recently in DVDs Category
Into the Cold
I usually write about books (or e-books) for Staff Picks. This time I decided to review the 2012 movie (DVD) War Horse. This British movie contains spectacular scenery and special effects. It's the story of a horse born and raised on a farm in Ireland. When World War I breaks out, the horse is sold to the British Army to raise money to save the farm. The young boy who raised him promises they will eventually be reunited. A very touching scene involves "Joey", as the horse is named, befriending another military horse. Joey serves with distinction in the British and German Armies, and is taken care of by a French grandfather and his young granddaughter. The most powerful scene for me showed hundreds of horses killed in battle. I'd never thought of this type of casualty before seeing this movie. Horses, like soldiers, also suffered. Joey, The War Horse, was very brave, indeed, and affected everybody he met.
I recommend this movie highly. The story line is dramatic and well - written, and the acting is superb. It will change your perception of World War I.
Thanks to all of for helping to make the this year a great one for the Library and all who work here. We appreciate all the kind words and support we've heard throughout the year.
The fine staff of the Children's room starts things off with their favorite children's and young adult titles of the year.
Bear has a story to tell, by Philip C. Stead ; illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A beautiful, sweet book by the 2011 Caldecott Winners of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Bear has a story to share with his friends mole, duck, mouse and frog who are busy getting ready for winter's arrival. Preschool-Grade 2
Big Mean Mike, by Michelle Knudsen ; illustrations by Scott Magoon
Fluffy, white, adorable bunnies are hard to resist. This humorous book is about the toughest dog in town with the meanest, noisiest car. Big Mean Mike finds one fluffy bunny after another in his cool car and tries to find ways to get rid of them before they ruin his reputation. Preschool-Grade 2
Cindy Moo, by Lori Mortensen ; illustrated by Jeff Mack
When Cindy Loo hears the line in the nursery rhyme, "And the cow jumped over the moon", she sets out to do just that, even when the other cows laugh at her.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson ; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The watercolor illustrations and thought provoking story will start many discussion in classrooms and at home. After her teacher gives a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have not treated a classmate very well and she longs for a chance to make it right. Grades 2-5
Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Jon Klassen
I read this picture book aloud to many students during class visits to the library. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is magical. Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and her knitting transforms her cold, dark town. Annabelle knits for her friends, neighbors and animals and it seems her box contains an endless supply of yarn. Students love to share their thoughts about Annabelle's mysterious yarn box, and what they would want an endless supply of in their own magical box. Grades K-3.
Happy, by Mies van Hout
An almost wordless book for one-on-one sharing or a small group. The author uses fish with different facial expressions and postures to portray 20 different emotions. A great book for interaction and discussion about feelings with pre-school children.
Penny and her song, by Kevin Henkes
This is the first entry in a new beginning reader series by the Caldecott Medal-winning author. Henkes introduces sweet and curious little mouse Penny, who longs to share a new counting song she has learned at school but is stopped by her parents who fear she will wake the babies. Penny's dilemma is resolved when the whole family gathers for her solo performance, singing a catching tune from one to ten and putting the siblings to sleep in the process.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Children's Services loves this story and "wondered" whether it would resonate as much with children. It does. Children come in to request it, to rave about the book, and to ask for stories similar to it. Wonder tells the story of Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and is entering fifth grade at a private middle school after years of homeschooling. Told from multiple points of view, including Auggie, his sister, and several friends. School Library Journal notes that "everyone grows and develops as the story progresses, especially the middle school students. This is a fast read and would be a great discussion starter about love, support, and judging people on their appearance. A well-written, thought-provoking book." Recommended for grades 4-7.
Cinder: a Lunar chronicles novel , by Marissa Meyer
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
And here are a few more young adult titles from our teen committee:
The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Book 1 : This dark endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
Fifteen year old Victor Frankenstein struggles with feelings of inferiority towards his identical twin brother Konrad. While exploring the family home in Geneva with friends Elizabeth and Henry, the twins find a secret library filled with books on the occult. When Konrad becomes gravely ill, Victor becomes obsessed with alchemy and with creating the Elixer of Life to save his brother. During his search for the necessary ingredients, Victor's belief in the powers of the elixer take hold of him, changing the course of their lives forever.
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
A book about childhood cancer; it doesn't sound appealing at first glance, but it is filled with immensely appealing characters. This book follows the stories of several teenage cancer patients who meet in a support group. Augustus, Hazel and Isaac look at their lives and their illness with the frankness and irony common to teenagers. They have hobbies, dreams and relationship problems, but they live with the reality that their lives will not be long. Somehow John Green, without pity or sentimentality, manages to provide a peek into a world that most people fortunately never glimpse. Readers should push aside their reluctance to read this book for fear it will be depressing. I recommend this title to young adults and their parents. This book is written by an acclaimed author of young adult fiction and is on the 2012 list of Teens' Top Ten, a list chosen by young adult readers. Please watch this video of the author John Green reading the first chapter.
Dodger, by Terry Pratchett
Batman: Earth one , written by, Geoff Johns ; pencils by, Gary Frank ; inks by Jonathan Sibal ; color by Brad Anderson ; lettered by Rob Leigh
Code name Verity , by Elizabeth Wein
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
And here's what the rest of our staff has to say:
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs
In Atlantic City a casino heist goes bad and "Jack" (our eponymous Ghostman) is called in to clean up the mess and find the money. It's not a job he actually wants to do, but he has a debt to pay for a job he botched years ago and the ruthless crime lord he owes isn't the type to forgive and forget. Jack must work against the clock and use all of his skills and cunning to outmaneuver the Feds and a rival crime lord before all $1.2 million of the casino take goes up in flames. I got the opportunity to read an advance copy of Ghostman and Roger Hobbs has written a taut, fast-paced crime thriller that will be hard to put down. This is an impressive debut novel from an author who, by my estimation, has a bright writing career ahead of him.
The Balkan Project, by Cavatina Duo
The recording I seem to be returning to most often recently is Balkan Project by the Cavatina Duo. The Library catalog describes this CD accurately enough as "Arrangements of traditional Balkan songs and dances for flute and guitar". What this phrase doesn't capture however is the virtuosity of both flautist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic and their almost telepathic interplay in service of lovely melodies, many of which are in odd-numbered time signatures. Much of this music doesn't sound particularly Balkan in origin -- more Pan-Southern European. Regardless, the often poignant lyricism of the material speaks directly to the emotions.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Walter re-imagines the lives of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor beginning at the time of the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. He has inserted a cast of memorable fictional characters into their lives to create an entertaining tale. In addition to Rome the narrative is set in a sleepy fictional hamlet on the Italian coast and in L. A. It weaves the threads of several story lines through nearly fifty years in amusing and occasionally tragic ways.
We Sinners, by Hanna Pylväinen
This slim first novel draws on the author's own life experiences. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the nine children and the parents in a large Midwestern family. Their lives are circumscribed by the beliefs and practices of the strict fundamentalist Finnish Lutheran church to which they belong. Each individual relates how he or she struggles to find his or her place in their family and in the world. Pylvainen who grew up near Detroit as a Laestadian Lutheran has written a sensitive portrait of family members wrestling with forbidden desires and trying to maintain their love for one another.
The Garner Files: a memoir , by James Garner
Out of the eleven books I reviewed this year, I'd have to say The Garner Files was my favorite! I read this book last March on the train when I went to visit my daughter in Charlotte. James Garner is one of my favorite actors, and I was very curious about his background. It was nothing like I expected! His mother died when he was young, his father was an absentee parent always on the road, and he and his brother were brought up by relatives. He never finished school, and never had any formal training in acting. Garner got into acting because a friend kept on prodding him. And he was a natural! This book relates his dealings with unscrupulous Hollywood managers, temperamental actors and humorous situations. He worked with some of the greatest actors of all times. As I mentioned in my earlier Staff Pick, I came away with a greater appreciation for the man James Garner. You should read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!
The Cherry Thing, by Neneh Cherry & the Thing
A collaboration between vocalist Neneh Cherry and Scandinavian instrumental jazz trio The Thing. Over the course of this lurching and powerful record they cover songs by the like of Suicide, The Stooges and Ornette Coleman, among others. They manage to put their own stamp on these songs. The band, made up of bass, drums and saxophone build walls of tension behind Cherry's vocals creating a singular sound.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, by The Flaming Lips
Only Wayne Coyne and his band could actually pull off this idea, a double album featuring different "guests" on each track without things turning into a crazy jumbled mess. As it turns out, almost whoever they threw into this stew manages to hold their own and add to the band's heavy and discomforting sound. This CD version pales a bit in comparison to the now out of print double vinyl version by adding a few unnecessary touches but still, it's confounding how it all comes together.
Swing lo Magellan , by Dirty Projectors
The sheer joy on display here from the band manages to overcome their many pretensions. Plus, this features the year's best guitar riff...easily.
Pulphead: essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
John Jeremiah Sullivan makes essay writing seem so easy. With an easy charm and a quiet confidence,he immediately puts the reader at ease. His quirky choices of subjects doesn't hurt either; my favorite essay leads the book off. In it he visits a christian rock festival. He was ready to make fun of these folks and, he still does but also gains a grudging admiration for them. But really, anywhere you open this book you're bound to find a charmer. Currently, Mr . Sullivan is writing frequently for the New York Times Magazine, where he most recently told us about his "Multiday Massage-a-thon."
(the critics were WRONG!)
When Horror came to Shochiku
Four classic Japanese horror films from the 60s finally available from Criterion.
Blunderbuss, by Jack White
Bish Bosch, by Scott Walker
Tempest, by Bob Dylan
Lady, go die!: a Mike Hammer mystery, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Leviathan Wakes: an Expanse novel, by James S.A. Corey
The Big Book of Ghost Stories , edited by Otto Penzler
Lots of classic horror tales by a very diverse collection of writers from H.P. Lovecraft to Joyce Carol Oates.
Shadow show : an anthology of original short fiction by 26 authors, each of whom was inspired by the legendary work of Ray Bradbury, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
The Voice is All: the lonely victory of Jack Kerouac , by Joyce Johnson
Marvel Comics: the untold story , by Sean Howe
Jack Kerouac: collected poems, edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell
Assassins Creed 3, by Ubisoft
Ever wondered what downtown Boston and New York looked like during the revolutionary war? Well the designers at Ubisoft have accurately recreated both cities as your playground (in fact a good portion of the eastern seaboard can be explored). This game offers a historical fiction plot line with a serious sci-fi twist. Whether on missions or moving around in free play, this game is sure to become your next great time suck! As an Assassin, your job is to stop the evil Templars (who are responsible for the death of your mother). I highly recommend this to anyone who has an extra 100 hrs at their disposal! My favorite parts are participating in the Boston Tea Party and befriending Samuel Adams. Who said learning wasn't fun!
Jerusalem: chronicles from the Holy City, by Guy Delisle; coloured by Lucie Firoud & Guy Delisle; translated by Helge Dascher
Cartoonist Guy Delisle has made a career of combining his NGO work with graphic novel travelogues. With Jerusalem he has reached a pinnacle of sorts, by masterly weaving together his day to day struggles living within the city and highlighting it's historical relevance and cultural diversity. Though they are covered, the political realities of the city rarely take center stage here, as Delisle is careful not to overshadow his narrative with the ongoing conflict. By doing so, Delisle succeeds in giving us a report from the frontlines that is remarkably humane.
The Turin Horse, directed by Bela Tarr
Hungarian director Béla Tarr has claimed that this will be his last film and it is indeed a masterwork. Shot in 30 long takes, the film's slow pace, somber repetitiveness and bleak outlook will turn away most audiences; but if you are in the mood for a Nietzchean reflection on the endtimes, this is the film for you. I found it incredibly moving, the kind of film that sticks with you for an eternity. Words truly do not do this film justice, each viewer should be left to interpret it on their own.
Black is Beautiful, by Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland
Under the moniker Hype Williams, Blunt and Copeland have released a plethora of material on mixtapes and blogs over the past few years. In the process they have built up a rabid cult following within the online underground music community. With Black is Beautiful, the UK duo have lived up to this praise and continued their prolific streak with a very non-traditional release. Every track on the disc feels like a work in progress, yet they all flow together as if premeditated. Throwing together disparate strains of free jazz, hip hop and reggae the duo take the trip hop sound laid down by artists like Tricky and Portishead over a decade ago, disassemble it and reconfigure for an uncertain future.
Lucifer, by Peaking Lights
Lucifer is a joyous celebration of low-fidelity musical mysticism. Peaking Lights combination of dance music refuse, dub and lo-fi/indie rock tropes is hypnotically dizzying in its scope. Unlike other acts mining similar territory, they approach their sound without an ounce of irony or self-awareness and this makes all the difference- as their sincerity shines through.
Rose: my life in service to Lady Astor, by Rosina Harrison
This is an engaging memoir by a woman, Rosina Harrisson, who made a career of being a lady's maid in the early to mid 20th century. During her life in service to famous and sometimes infamous Nancy Astor, she achieved her life dream of travel and adventure. It is interesting to compare her version of life upstairs and downstairs with the popular Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. It is also an excellent read in preparation for the new biography of Nancy Astor by Adrian Fort to be published in the US in January 2013. Nancy was an American southern belle divorcee who made a brilliant marriage to Waldorf Astor and became among many things, the first woman elected to the House of Commons where she stayed for 25 years.And Rose was with her the whole time keeping her clothes and diamonds in order as well as her renowned temper. This was no mean accomplishment for, a Yorkshire country girl. Enjoy!
Picks from our Cos Cob staff
Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail , by Cheryl Strayed
Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Where'd you go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
As you might expect, the Greenwich Library staff are an erudite bunch; opinionated too. Here are some of their favorite things from the past year.
My Favorite Design Books
Design Sponge at Home, by Grace Bonney
This is an amazing book by the creator of the popular design blog Design*Sponge. The book features beautiful photos and illustrations with home tours, realistic DIY projects with helpful step-by-step tutorials, and before and after makeovers. If you're looking to personalize your home on a budget, and need to know how to do it all yourself, this is the perfect place to start.
Black & White (and a bit in between), by Celerie Kemble
Black and white is my absolute favorite color combination. It is striking, dramatic and glamorous but can also be soothing and understated. In addition to her own, designer Celerie Kemble includes rooms by other well known designers, so you experience many points of view along the common theme of black and white. Kemble also covers adding neutrals and pops of color to accentuate your space. Great for inspiration.
Some 2011 highlights
Beginners, directed by Mike Mills
This deft and charming film focuses on sad guy Oliver Fields, played by Ewan McGregor, as he comes to terms with the death of his father and his attempt, after many failures, at a meaningful relationship. The story, told in flashbacks as well as the present (well, 2003 but, close enough,) allows us to see the baggage that Oliver is carrying around in his adult life. We learn that after his mother dies his father, which much aplomb, comes out of the closet. And, in a way, it's the story of Oliver coming out of his own closet of sadness and self-doubt. He begins a romance with the lovely Anna (played by the super cute Melanie Laurent))after they meet at a costume party. It's the scenes of their sometimes awkward courtship that are intermixed with the back story of Oliver's life. Neither of them is very good at relationships and, thanks to Mills excellent script, we learn why Oliver is reticent but we are offered just brief clues as to what lies in Anna's past.Despite the fact that they are in their late 30's, they are still beginners.
Christopher Plummer nearly steals the show as Oliver's dad and, even despite the presence of a cute little dog, things never get too precious.
Our Lives are Shaped by What We love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973, by various artists
Who knew that, in the early '70's, Motown records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. ran a left coast version of his legendary Detroit record label. It was called Mowest and was dedicated to the grooving sounds of the west coast, with a sharp eye on the top of the charts. (Those were the days when top ten records really mattered.) Even though the label released over forty singles and close to a dozen albums the hits never happened and the imprint called it a day in 1973. But...that doesn't mean the music wasn't worthwhile because, in retrospect there were scores of great songs that were released during that time. Forty plus years later the best of those have been collected on this beautiful re-issue. Nearly every track is a winner and what's most striking is the wide variety of styles found on the collection. There's quite a bit of top shelf R&B, of course, by the like of such unknowns as Syreeta, G.C. Cameron and Sister Love but there's some nice Topanga Canyonesque rock from Lodi and some straight up hippie sounds from Odyssey. And after listening to this record I guarantee you that you'll never think about Frankie Valli & the Four seasons. They show up twice here, once offering up a fierce Meters like funk workout with a killer horn break called "Sun Country." The real highlight is a sneaky number by Syreeta called "I Love Everything Little Thing About You" that captures the breezy west coast sound Gordy was after with Mowest. It features an unmistakable Stevie Wonder on keyboards (he also produced her record for Mowest) and brings a synthesizer inflected funk sound to the track. I'd love to hear the whole record someday. This one was a super nice surprise.
Jernigan & Preston Falls, by David Gates
If all this Holiday cheer has you down I can recommend the writing of David Gates. While they aren't necessarily new (they were published in 1991 and 1998) these novels they're new to me. The men In these books, Peter Jernigan and Doug Willis, manage to wreck nearly everything and everyone they come in contact with. Jernigan is a self-centered drunk who is trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, who apparently was a bigger drunk than him. His dubious method of doing so is to drink even more than he used to and by losing his job. And, just when you think he can't sink any lower he moves in with the mother of his son's girlfriend. It's a creepy arrangement but it works...for a little while. It's a grim story but Gates makes it compulsively readable by creating characters that are entirely believable. He also adds a healthy dose of gallows humor to the book. Expanding on the same ground that Raymond Carver covered, Gates offers up a glimpse of a life that's spinning out of control. It's unclear if Jernigan actually wants to get well (at times he seems perfectly content to be a wretched drunk.) He doesn't do a whole lot of soul searching but, despite his shortcomings, he is still saved from his certain demise by his sadly neglected son. It's a powerful book that, in the wrong hands could have been too much. But Gates knows the territory well and cushions the blow with a strong dose of humanity.
In Preston Falls, Doug Willis isn't much better but at least he has a job. He's also smack in the middle of a mid-life crisis. To combat that, he decides to take a sabbatical from his corporate job and head to his summer house in Vermont with the intention of fixing it up. He leaves his wife and kids to fend for themselves. But a series of poor decisions ends turning his vacation into a nightmare. Throughout the book Gates drops hints that Willis's marriage has been on the rocks from quite some time. His wife is resentful that he's left but, in a way she seems thankful as well. His absence is one less hardship for her to deal with. Soon after his arrival in Preston Falls Willis falls in with some disreputable townies and before you know it, things are spinning out of control. He handles it about as poorly as a person could and ends penniless and on the run. And once again it's his wife, friend and family that do their best to get things squared away. Even though things are rough for a good portion of the novel, Gates leaves us with a little glimmer of hope.
Gates has scarcely been heard from since the publication of Preston Falls. Besides a short story collection there has been nothing. I can't help but suspect that some of the issues that surround his male characters come from direct experience. I also get the feeling that writing these books was a very difficult process. One that he may still be recovering from.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
Helen Simonson has written a real charmer of a book with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Whether one is a avid or infrequent reader, this book can be a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding reading experience. The Major Pettigrew of the title is a retired, widowed British military officer recovering from the death of his brother. A chance encounter with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shop keeper, is the starting point of a friendship based, at first, on a mutual love of literature. Set in a seemingly tranquil English small town, the balance of this very well-crafted story follows the events in Pettigrew's life as he rediscovers the fact that joy can return to his life. While Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's first novel, this reviewer is hopeful that she will continue to write books as enjoyable as this one. The bonus of reading the Random House Reader's Circle edition available at the Greenwich Library is an interview with Simonson as well as a readers discussion section. This would be a great selection for a book club.
Briefly, if this reviewer were to pick the best books read in 2011, the fiction winner would be Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and for nonfiction, it would be Founding Gardeners : The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf. That book is reviewed in the Staff Picks column.
Chamber Music, Vols 1-3, by Rodolfo Halffter
My musical discovery of the year is the Spanish/Mexican composer Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987). The Library owns a series of three CDs (COMP DISC 785.1 HALFF) devoted to his chamber music and I was particularly impressed with the third installment. The distinctive mix of neo-classicism and accessible atonalism on this recording has led me to more repeat listenings than any other recent release. All three discs can also be auditioned via Naxos Music Library on the Digital Music Page of the Library's website.
Complete Music for Piano, by Joaquin Rodrigo
Joaquin Rodrigo isn't particularly well known for his compositions for piano. However, I discovered his Complete Music for Piano a few months ago via the Library's subscription to Naxos Music Library and continue to revisit this uniformly charming release regularly. Magisterially played by Gregory Allen, the two disc set is also available on CD (COMP DISC 786.2 RODRI) at the Main Library.
All the Devils are Here: the Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera
If you are still looking to read a single book that will explain the cause of the continuing recession, All the Devils Are Here is the right one to read. One of the authors, Bethany McLean, is also the author of the highly readable Enron expose, The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Joe Nocera is a business columnist for The New York Times. They two have woven together the history of the mortgage industry, the historical role of the U.S. government in promoting home ownership, backgrounds of the many financial institutions that devised financial instruments to trade mortgages and the human failures at all levels. They show that there is plenty of blame to go around.
Germinal, by Emile Zola
"Out on the open plain, on a starless, ink-dark night, a lone man was following the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou,1 ten kilometres of paved road that cut directly across the fields of beet." That first sentence and Nicholas Kristoff's recommendation in the NYT last summer led me to tackle a major novel of the 19th century. This work describes coal miners in France during a strike in the 1860s. The miners are not just the simple poor, but complex men and women living an impossibly bleak life. The mine owners and managers are multifaceted characters also buffeted by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. This book resonates long after a rousing group discussion. Read this novel and you will understand the labor movement as never before. I can't recommend Germinal highly enough
Narrow Dog to Carcassone & Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington
These are among the funniest books I've read. "We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure..." Retired Welsh couple Terry and Monica Darlington and their whippet Jim, take a couple of journeys on their narrowboat (a canal boat), first down the Rhone River to the south of France, and then down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It quickly becomes clear why no narrowboat has been seen in the Eastern U.S. These two books are comic, poignant, dangerous and joyful. If you love the witty observations of Bill Bryson, and if you love Mark Twain, these two books will be right up your alley!
Games of the Year
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed and published by Bethesda Softworks
Bethesda's fifth entry in its popular Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, is pure fun. Explore a massive and beautifully detailed world as just about any kind of character you want to be with a multitude of things to do. Just make sure you wear some knee armor!
Just Dance 3, developed and published by Ubi Soft.
Just Dance 3: Wow. As an early adopter of the Wii version of Dance Dance Revolution, I was sure I was going to like this game. But I had no way of knowing how ridiculously fun it would be to dance by myself in my living room. Do I look like a complete idiot? Most definitely! Am I having an amazing time and learning ridiculous dance moves that will certainly be displayed at the next wedding I attend? Yes! I've never been to a wedding where a good representation of the Robot is not appreciated. I also had the opportunity of playing multiplayer. It's like being in a music video and if I can convince someone to memorize some of these dance moves with me, I will have a full on performance planned in the near future. And for anyone looking for some physical activity, look no further. This game will get your heart pumping . The basics are simple. Pick your song (literally any genre) and follow the choreographed dance moves of the character. Your movements are judged on how closely they mimic the character and points are awarded accordingly.
** I should note that all dogs, people and furniture that you don't want impaled by flailing limbs should be moved as far away as possible as you will dance like you have never danced before.
L.A. Noire, developed and published by Rockstar Games
I love crime shows. And playing this video game was like taking control of a crime show set in LA in 1947. Rock Star Games, who also created the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, is responsible for this epic tale of murder, drugs, and corruption. So the synopsis of the game is as follows. You're an ex soldier who returned from the war to become a police officer in LA in 1947. As you solve crimes you are slowly promoted. Solving crimes involve all of our favorite things Rock Star Games has offered us over the years: shooting, fighting and driving fast. Unlike other Rock Star Games however, this one is slightly more structured and setup more like a level-up kind of game. Each case involves interrogations, clues, chases and or shoot-outs and not all conclude with a happy ending. I don't usually play a game for its graphics, but not mentioning them in this game would be doing this review a disservice. For anyone with an interest in old historical Hollywood, this game gives an unbelievably accurate representation. The sheer detail of the land makes you stop and look around. And the characters in the game look so real you actually can read their facial expressions. For any movie history buffs, this game will certainly excite you. The game is made to have that "Film Noire" look to it. It's dark, gritty and there's a crime of passion around every corner. It also references a lot of the emotions many men and women were going through post WWII (which for me, seems to be pretty deep for a video game). I highly suggested giving this game a shot, just be prepared to devote 60 hours of your next month!
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 , by Warner Home Video
As a fan of the Lego series games I am rarely disappointed by the release of another Lego game. And Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 held up to my expectations. All the basic game play is the same as previous Lego games. You break blocks and build them, wizardry can be used to move items and potions help you change characters. They added a few helpful hints to help you complete the game at 100% (which I was certainly grateful for). Much like the books and movies this game takes a dark turn during the last 4 chapters. Things have gotten a lot more serious for Harry. However, the game still takes the liberty to make small jokes whenever possible (which I appreciate- Keep your eye out for the Monty Python reference). I am not as familiar with the Harry Potter story as I am with some of the other Lego franchises. However, I was still able to complete the game. After unlocking several characters you are able to return to Hogwarts and unlock the evil areas as Lord Voldemort or perform new spells on signing mandrakes. Each level has characters to unlock and crests to collect. Red bricks can be found throughout Hogwarts (unlocking these give you extra abilities) and there are a total of 200 gold bricks to collect! The one thing I noticed first when playing this game is how much of the base area they expanded since Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. There is still Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, but they have also added some parts of London and the train stations. Seeing these areas in the movies was cool, but interacting with them in a video game is even cooler! In the end this game is not really that hard, but it is fun and lasts long enough so that you can really enjoy the game play.
Life Itself, by Roger Ebert
Having lost the ability to speak, eat and drink due to multiple surgeries for thyroid cancer, Roger Ebert has written an eloquent memoir. He recalls his early life in the Midwest, his career in journalism as a film critic, and stories about his colleagues, celebrity actors and movie directors. He writes lovingly about his relationship with his father and honestly about his own and his mother's struggles with alcoholism as well as their divergent views of the Catholic church. His vivid memories of meals he has savored are entertainingly recalled. The account of how in later life he met and married his supportive wife, Chaz and bonded with her large extended family is especially endearing. Edward Herrman's narration of the cd version of the text is perfect.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux
When I thought back to the books I've read in 2011, the one that stood out in my mind was "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia" by Paul Theroux.It reminded me of the great Agatha Christie novel "Murder On the Orient Express". Theroux decided to take a train trip to a warm, dry climate to shake off an illness brought on by the cold, damp British climate.He meets a motley crew of characters as he transfers from train to train. Train politics consists of bribing the conductor for an upgrade in accommodations. The trains seem to vary in their conformance to any kind of schedule. There are colorful descriptions of people and landscapes, as well as local customs. Sacred temples and sites are used differently from country to country. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the abject poverty visible across Eurasia. If you'd like to read a book with a touch of romanticism from an earlier time and space, and a stark look at other cultures, I suggest you download this e-book
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People.
The only television program I watch with any regularity, Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, is a rollercoaster ride of fun and surrealism. An added bonus is having a show that I can enjoy on equal footing with my 9 year old son! Read more here.
Music for Merce, by Various Artists
The New World Records label has really outdone themselves with this 10 CD boxset. Chronicling over fifty years of music written/performed for Merce Cunningham's dance pieces, the names here are a who's who of modern music: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Gordon Mumma, and many more. The music is incredibly challenging, using primitive electronics and amplification processes to open up new avenues of composition. If you are a fan of experimental music, this boxset is simply manna from heaven.
The Viola Works, by Giacinto Scelsi
Italian composer Scelsi's work was relatively unknown during his lifetime, but his status as a true giant of 20th Century composition has been growing ever more prominent. These works for viola demonstrate his transcendent aesthetic perfectly. Touching upon elements of minimalism, non-western musical idioms and atonality; his compositions enter a realm of somber beauty all their own.
Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show 1, by Adam Hines
Hines' ambitious 400 page graphic novel may initially appear daunting, but upon reading the first few chapters the reader is transfixed. Detailing a world where animals can speak, their varying relationships with and treatment by humans are explored in depth. Hines' paints a realistic world that uses a dizzying array of layouts to form a visual narrative that never ceases to amaze. The story itself is a philosophical landmine, provoking the reader to question his/her relationship to nature and the world around them. Duncan may well be one of the smartest graphic novels I have ever read and will stay with you long after you read it.
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, by John Maus
Maus has refined his craft as a member of Ariel Pink's collective over the years and his newest disc shows him to be at the pinnacle of his craft. Each track on this album feels like it was culled together from my own memories of the synthpop/postpunk tracks of my youth. This is further exemplified with the album's hazy, dreamlike production, leaving one with a disc that feels oddly familiar yet whose emotions are startlingly relevant.
Someone Gave Me Religion, by Arnaud Rebotini
Rebotini has always come across a vintage synthesizer fetishist, going so far as to list each piece of equipment used on past recordings. But with his newest release he finally gets his cherished gear to sing. From the opening 13-minute cosmic ambient track onwards, Rebotini references everything from minimal techno to ebm to Chicago house with giddy aplomb.
White Material, by Claire Denis
Claire Denis latest film to explore her youth in Africa is a stunning portrait of a stubborn French woman's quest to retain her family's coffee plantation amidst the violent collapse of African imperialism. Isabelle Huppert plays the woman with stoic intensity, trying her best to go about life ignorant of the chaos around her. She unwittingly becomes the savior of a wounded rebel army leader as warring factions within the country run rampant. The film's portrayal of Africa is both haunting and beautiful and carries an intense sense of foreboding till it's bitter ending. The rest of the cast are also superb including Christophe Lambert (Highlander!)and Isaach de Bankolé.
Human Centipede: The First Sequence, by Directed by Tom Six
A real guilty pleasure with this one, a horror movie that manages to disgust and humor simultaneously. Not for the faint of heart.
From the Cos Cob Branch Staff
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Highly enjoyable with several coming of age stories. It's set in a small college community in Wisconsin with a background of baseball as a metaphor for life.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A moving story of a young woman whose gift for understand the meaning of flowers helps her overcome her past and learn how to love. A very powerful, beautiful work.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
I felt transported by this book to the jungles of the Amazon. Fascinating and unpredictable and a unique read.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
A young doctor in a small Balkan country find secrets abound after the war. A mix of myth and reality. It's a beautifully written tale with several stories unfolding.
Released in 2006, Goya's Ghosts may not have enjoyed wide-spread popularity, but it is an interesting and visually satisfying film. Directed by Milos Forman, who also co-wrote the script with Jean-Claude Carriere, Goya's Ghosts begins by following the Spanish painter Francisco Goya in late Eighteenth Century Spain during the Inquisition conducted by the Spanish Catholic Church. Famed for his portraits as well as his satirical paintings of aspects of Spanish society, a young daughter from a wealthy merchant family becomes the subject of one of Goya's paintings. She later is suspected of being Jewish by the church authorities, arrested, tortured and imprisoned. One priest in particular, Brother Lorenzo, played by Javier Bardem, becomes involved with the family of this girl and their efforts to seek her release. The characters are involved in the turbulent times of the Inquisition and the subsequent invasion of Spain by Napoleon's French troops and then the arrival of the British, who defeat and expel the French. Well-acted and beautifully filmed, Goya's Ghosts is a film to enjoy.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
While Fantastic Mr. Fox is marketed to the kid audience it should be said that it is also director Wes Anderson's best movie since Rushmore. That means the discerning parent will enjoy themselves immensely as well. Based loosely on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, it features stop motion animation (remember that?) instead of the slick and sometimes soulless computer animation we usually see. But that's only part of the charm.
Mr. Fox is an incorrigible thief. He knows pilfering from the surrounding farms is wrong but... he just can't help himself. It's who he is. Needless to say his predilection gets himself (and many other animals in that neighborhood) in hot water. The story's main action focuses on how he and his family extricate themselves from danger. Their arch-enemies are three neighboring farmers who will do anything to get rid of Mr. Fox. There are lessons learned and many moments of hilarity but really, this movie is so much more than that.
My insightful wife feels that Anderson possesses a deft touch when it comes to portraying male relationships, and I tend to concur with her. He showed this in his previous films Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. It's touching without being cloying and rings true every time. The relationship between Mr. Fox and his insecure son Ash is true to this form. When his cousin Kristofferson shows up and immediately (but not purposefully) shows him up in his father's eyes, Ash acts up in the ways all parents have come to know. Ash begins a campaign to win back his father's attention that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
There are also countless smaller touches included here that make the movie so successful: a running gag about a bandit hat, Kristofferson's meditation habit, the game "hotbox" that all the kids play, and so much more. There is an extended discussion on Internet Movie Database about the movie's "little things" that fills several pages. Everyone seems to have their favorites and it takes several viewings to catch them all.
On top of all that you have George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe doing the main voices. And, it wouldn't be a Wes Anderson movie if it didn't have a top shelf soundtrack. The incidental music, composed by Alexandre Despalt is the perfect complement to the action on screen and the Stones' "Street Fightin' Man" pops up just when you need it most.
This is not only a serious technological marvel (the animation must be seen to be appreciated,) but a clever and very funny film the whole family will enjoy.
A Serious Man
So here we have it, a perfect bookend to Fargo. It's Jewish cousin, so to speak. A Serious Man is a bit more dark and a little less comical but in both films the Coen Brothers return to their native Minnesota to gently poke fun at people.
Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a late 1960s version of Job. His problems just won't quit. His wife is leaving him for a schmuck and has booted him out of the house, he's worried about getting tenure, his pothead son is getting bar mitzvahed in a week and isn't quite with the program, he has become attracted to the sultry but distant lady next door and his brother Arthur has come to stay with the family, bringing with him tons of personal baggage and a cyst that won't stop draining. And there's more. One of Larry's students who is flunking his physics class thrusts an envelope full of money at him, urging him to change his grade to a passing one. Larry needs the money (he has a bar mitzvah to pay for, he has to pay for the hotel he now lives in and he needs lawyer fees for his no-good brother) but is conflicted.
In an effort to come terms with his predicament he sees a series of Rabbis, each one less helpful than the other. Larry's life becomes filled with uncertainty and, while hoping to find solace in his religion, it appears none can be found.
I know it doesn't sound funny but it is. It's serious in the way it looks at the question of faith but also hilarious in an awkward sort of way. It also seems personal in a way that the recent Coen Brothers movies haven't. I'll take it any day over No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading. I'm still laughing about the tormenting phone calls Larry gets from the guy from the Columbia Record Club. I'll never think of Santana the same way again.
Battle for Haditha
The Iraq war has been the subject of many feature movies in the past years and Battle for Haditha joins that growing number. Directed by Nick Broomfield, it is an absorbing, skillfully made film about an actual massacre of Iraqi civilians by United States Marines that occurred in November, 2005. Broomfield builds up to this event from three angles : the Marines who carried out the slaughter, an Haditha family that gets swept into the violence of the massacre, and the insurgents who are key in setting off the chain of events that causes the Marines to charge into action. The attitudes of each side are very well detailed and thus the movie has a great balance of viewpoints - from the reasons why the insurgents are so intensely dedicated to battle the Americans, how a family's life is ruined by the fighting in Haditha, and to the driving desire of the Marines to destroy those who are against them. Filmed largely in Jordan, Battle for Haditha has terrific cinematography which captures the often bleak desert terrain in which Haditha is situated. The strong acting adds to the strength of the movie. Apparently, some of the actors were chosen because they did indeed serve in the Iraq war. This is an intense movie, but one that makes the Iraq war come distinctly and vividly alive for its viewers.
For those who enjoy early Twentieth Century British family sagas transformed into a television series, The Forsyte Saga will be a total delight! Beautifully filmed with a great cast, this multi-disc set is totally entertaining. Based on the book by John Galsworthy (also available in the fiction and audio book collections at the Greenwich Library), this dvd collection wonderfully tells the story of the fictional Forsyte family over many years and is great viewing.
30 Century Man,
by Scott Walker
One of the most underrated and little-known singer/composers around, Scott Walker has for over four decades delivered powerful, personal albums whose songs stick in the listener's subconscious long after being played. Born Noel Scott Engel in 1943, he took the stage name Scott Walker while performing with the American pop group The Walker Brothers (who weren't really related), having a string of hits, including "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", in the US, and, especially in the UK where they were more popular, during 1964-67. After the group's breakup, Walker released a series of solo albums between 1967-69 which reflected a new found maturity, as well as the influences of such European composers as Jacques Brel (whose songs Walker covered), in lyrics and production. But the subject matter of his compositions put off fans, resulting in poor album sales. This commercial setback resulted in Walker spending the rest of the 70s recording gloppy albums of pop standards, half-heartedly reuniting with the Walker Brothers, and apparently destined to sink in "has-been" obscurity. End of story, right? Well, Stephen Kijak's Scott Walker 30 Century Man , a 2006 British documentary belatedly released in US theatres last fall and now available on DVD, is not only a reaffirmation of Scott Walker's musical legacy, but it's also, as several writers have pointed out, a powerful portrait of an artist creating music that aspires to be something more than disposable pop. Kijak notes how, during the abortive 70s Walker Brothers' reunion recordings and tour, Walker regained his desire to compose and perform challenging musical works that practically dared the average listener to be stirred and/or angered. The director, using archival footage and new interviews, notes the progression of Walker's rather sparse solo work (one album a decade since 1984's Climate of Hunter!) in the past two decades and his influence on fellow performers and musicians. As a bonus, Kijak also gets the publicity-shy Walker to sit down on camera and discuss his creative process (shown vividly in the studio footage of the making of the powerful 2006 album The Drift), along the way getting Walker to open up about his past works. (Interestingly, Walker lets slip that once he's finished recording an album, he never wants to hear it again. Hence one explanation for his not touring.) But as the various musicians in the film (including the likes of David Bowie, who co-produced the film; Jarvis Cocker, Alison Goldfrapp, Johnny Marr, the members of Radiohead, and, of all people, Sting) point out in an extended sequence, Walker's music is made to be listened to, not (as writer Tim Lucas noted on his blog) played in the background on loud radios while driving your car. Walker's music is an expression of the artist opening up his soul and laying himself bare to the audience. It isn't supposed to be incidental music played as if it was a signature theme song out of the movies but a legitimately artistic and intimate work. That's something to think about in this age of instantly disposable pop icons and trends. Scott Walker 30 Century Man is a successful artistic appreciation and validation of an artist long ignored by the mainstream public who still managed to keep his musical integrity. As Brian Eno noted in the film while listening to one of Walker's compositions, "it's humiliating...we (musicians) still haven't moved past this" in terms of musical innovation and maturity. Too true.
Since 2003, the films of Steven Seagal have gone straight to video in this country following the theatrical release of the box office and artistic flop Half Past Dead. Now, I'm the first to admit that Mr. Seagal is not the most talented dramatic actor working in cinema today. But when he first broke through as a martial arts/action film star in the late 80s, through the combination of sheer physical presence and skills (nobody snapped wrists better), as well as the good luck to work with genuinely talented writers and directors (including Andrew Davis, who went on to do 1993's The Fugitive), Seagal had appeared in a number of impressive, well produced and exciting action/adventure films. (Seagal's best include 1988's Above the Law and 1992's Under Siege, both directed by Davis, as well as 1995's Davis-less-but-still-good Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and 1991's Out For Justice.)
But for the past six years, Seagal has mostly starred (and co-produced/co-written) in several direct-to-DVD films filmed in various international locales (Eastern Europe seems to be a frequent location, though South Africa and Asia have also been used), with moderate (lower budgeted) production values. And he's made some stinkers: it's a chore to sit through 2005's Submerged and last year's awful Kill Switch (the latter released just after Seagal's pretty good suspense thriller Pistol Whipped, which was filmed in and around Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford, among other locations in Connecticut) for example. However, when a good one does come along, like 2005's Into the Sun, it's a cause for celebration.
Set in Japan, Into the Sun follows the exploits of former CIA agent Travis Hunter (Seagal), who's brought back into the agency and has to investigate the assassination of Toyko's governor. But the plot goes all over the place as Our Hero discovers that the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Tongs have teamed up to take over the lucrative narcotics trade and, oh, yeah, wipe out anybody (including the governor) that gets in their way. Lots of sword and knife fights (and blood; this isn't for the kids) in this one, but what struck me the most was the downbeat, but energetic, tone of the film. Hunter and his allies eventually overcome the odds, but at great emotional loss to themselves. (I should point out that quite a few sympathetic characters are killed off in this one, so be careful who you become attached to.) Also, there's a sense that Japan's acceptance of "Western ways" (punk music, drugs, fashion, disrespect for older traditions) has corrupted the country internally.
That's a lot to read in an action film, but colorful villains, some good fight sequences, outstanding photography, a fine supporting cast (besides several Japanese actors from John Woo and Akira Kurosawa's films, look for Ghostbusters' William Atherton as Hunter's boss) and an outstandingly violent and bloody climax, help buoy the film from becoming too pretentious . Credit must go to director "pink", who handles the film's pacing with some style. And despite the awkward romantic scenes he has with his younger co-star Kanako Yamaguchi, Seagal (who, yes, is slightly slower and heavier, but aren't we all?) gives a more-engaged-than-usual performance. Probably because the star got to revisit his old neighborhood from his stay in Japan during the 70s, as well as co-writing the script, Seagal seems more involved than he's been in his recent films.
Although a far cry from his 90s heyday, Into the Sun is essential viewing for fans of both martial arts action films and Steven Seagal. Here's hoping (though I'm already hearing bad things about it) that his latest direct-to-DVD film, Against the Dark, Seagal's first straight horror film, will elevate the star back to his former glory. Into the Sun proves it's not impossible.
The Midnight Meat Train
Based on Clive Barker's short story of the same name (from his critically-acclaimed Books of Blood collection of short stories), The Midnight Meat Train tells the tale of Leon, a New Yorker who discovers nefarious goings-on aboard the late-night subway train. Following the clues surrounding a string of disappearances leads Leon to a mysterious man named Mahogany who is a cattle butcher by day and... something else by night. I don't want to spoil the story for you by revealing much more, but I will say that the movie shares a theme often found in others of the same genre: if you chase the darkness long enough, you just may find it chasing you.
While there are some departures from Barker's original story, the movie version does manage to stay true to the spirit of the original, though admittedly there is less explanation of the origins and purpose of those behind the disappearances than I would have liked. But apart from any script shortcomings, Ryûhei Kitamura's excellent direction combines with a solid cast and some nail-biting cinematography to provide a film experience that horror aficionados everywhere are sure to enjoy.
You Can Count On Me
You Can Count On Me, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, stars Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo as imperfect siblings in this perfect little movie. While each is flawed, it seems that, at least initially, only the Linney character is attempting to do the right thing. It is just that when she lost her parents early, married a loser, had a kid and now works for an asinine clueless boss; she finds it tricky keeping her life from spinning out of control. The story follows the return of her beloved slacker brother through his prolonged stay until the bittersweet ending where she finally takes control of her life. Matthew Broderick is truly surprising and convincing as the boss from hell. Like life some of the most terrible moments are laced with laughter.
After the Wedding
After the Wedding is a Danish film that was nominated for an academy award for best picture. It is a melodrama whose brilliant script explores familial bonds; some based on emotion and others based on blood. It is painful to watch a character's certainties dissolve in the aftermath of a seemingly innocuous invitation to attend a benefactor's wedding. The film allows the viewer to vicariously experience the relief people can feel when certainties, which may be simplistic, evolve into a much more complex and infinitely more rewarding world view. So, enjoy the film for Mads Mikkelsen heart breaking performance and Susanne Biers direction and script. The set will stay with you long after you have returned the DVD.
Dan in Real Life
In the olden, olden days, movies used the same formulas and the same stars and changed every week. In the mere olden days, movies became films and extravaganzas and stayed in theaters for months. Once they were gone, they were gone. Then television ushered in the video that morphed into the DVD which allows movies to hang around forever on our small screens creating a sweet spot for movies like Dan in Real Life. Here is a movie that can be enjoyed on so many frothy levels. It is a romantic comedy like The Family Stone although the tragedy happens before the movie starts rather than after. Steve Carell, of Office fame, plays the adorable lead instead of Sarah Jessica Parker. It takes place in New England and who can resist that. Diane Wiest is the mother and Dane Cook is the troublesome brother who just happens to have gotten the girl. Dane, in another troublesome guy role, is starring in My Best Friend's Girl, which if you go to theaters to see, you will definitely want to circle back to Dan in Real Life on DVD.
Yep, even Burt Reynolds made a spaghetti western. Following in the footsteps of fellow actor Clint Eastwood, who hit it big with director Sergio Leone on the "Dollars" westerns, Reynolds hoped to attain international stardom himself by working with director Sergio Corbucci (Django and The Hellbenders; both also recommended and available from the library) on 1966's Navajo Joe. But the film barely caused a ripple outside of Europe, and Reynolds, whenever asked, often spoke disparagingly of the film. (He once claimed that the film was shown on commercial air flights because audiences couldn't walk out.) That's too bad, because Navajo Joe is a terrific, violent action adventure thriller, with Reynolds (who despite his later comments about the movie is the epitome of cool here) as the Native American title hero defending a group of bigoted settlers against a gang of outlaws (whose leader, played by genre vet Aldo Sambrell, Reynolds' character has a particular hate on for, the reason why revealed in the exciting climax). Some wonderfully staged stunts, many by Reynolds himself, plus a stirring musical score by Ennio Morricone (billed as "Leo Nichols"), fantastic action sequences, a solid supporting cast and a powerful ending help give this underrated film the critical attention it deserves. Ignore Reynolds' comments and watch this film! Also with Fernando Rey and the gorgeous Nicoletta Machiavelli.
The Long Goodbye
Director Robert Altman's 1973 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (with Elliott Gould as private eye Philip Marlowe) is an engrossing, clever takeoff on both the mystery genre and early 70s Californian lifestyles. After Marlowe helps an old friend accused of murder flee Los Angeles for Mexico, he becomes involved in a series of bizarre situations and characters (including Sterling Hayden's washed-up author, a sinister pop psychologist played by Henry Gibson and a nasty coke-bottle smashing gangster played by Altman's fellow director Mark Rydell), all the while (seemingly) keeping his cool. ("It's okay with me," is Marlowe's frequent reaction on the increasingly out-of-control proceedings.) But in an unforgettable scene that drove Chandler fans nuts, an angry, betrayed Marlowe finally decides it's NOT okay and gets even for all the slights he went through. (The fans thought Marlowe's reaction in the film's climax, which was very different from the 1954 novel's, was out-of-character; judge for yourselves.) Also with Nina Van Pallandt, Jim Bouton, and two blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos by David Carradine and Arnold Schwazenegger . Terrific photography by Vilmos Zsigmond.
Charles Boyer very nearly steals the show in this 1944 nail biter. Boyer is pitch perfect in his role as Gregory Anton, con man extraordinaire. Ingrid Bergman plays Paula Alquist, unwitting victim to his machinations. As the movie begins we see a murder involving Paula's aunt, which takes place in London's foggy Thornton Square; a murder that goes unsolved. Paula is whisked away to Italy in hopes that she can put the ghastly scene behind her. It is there that she is courted by Gregory Anton. His constant presence and excessive doting would be suffocating to most women but the needy and naïve Paula welcomes it. The two are soon married. It is then that the story begins to get truly sinister. At Gregory's suggestion the couple returns to London and move in to the house on Thornton Square. Shortly after their arrival, Paula begins a descent into madness. Are the lights really dimming and flickering every night? What is that thumping sound above her bedroom? And... why does Gregory suddenly seem so distant and cruel? The ubiquitous Charles Cotton soon enters the picture as an American police officer working for Scotland Yard. His initial interest is to solve the earlier murder of Paula's aunt but he is soon smitten with Paula and his suspicion of Gregory moves the action forward. Director George Cukor adds to the film's mystery with a pitch perfect mise-en-scène. The fog covered square, the creaky old house, the nosy neighbor and so much more all abet the film's sinister air. It doesn't take long to figure out how this movie will end up but, it's getting there that's the fun part.
Acclaimed director David Mamet has written Mike Terry (played with masterful restraint by Chiwetel Ejiofor) as an ex-soldier jujitsu instructor in Los Angeles who has eschewed martial arts competition as "shameful" according to his samurai code of honor, preferring instead to teach people how to "prevail" in their own lives. But, as Mike discovers, honor doesn't pay the bills. Nor do good deeds for that matter, as Mike also learns that the road to Hell often truly is paved with good intentions--in a confluence of unfortunate events spawned amid some perverse karmic backlash, every "good" deed Mike performs for others comes back to haunt him. Backed into a corner by life's misfortunes and the underhanded dealings of some sleazy martial arts promoters, Mike must put his own skill and honor on the line if he hopes to prevail against the malevolent forces arrayed against him. Mamet's expert-but-subtle direction is almost too understated at times, but his passion for the art of jujitsu and its philosophy really work to outshine any technical mis-steps, resulting in an excellent story well-told.
This Sporting Life
I seem to discover a great British movie from the 1960's nearly every week. There are new gems being re-issued all the time. This one, from 1963, features an amazing Richard Harris as Frank Machin, a Rugby player trying to come to terms with the violence that surrounds him both on the field and in his psyche. He falls hard in love with his incredibly repressed, widowed landlady, played by Rachel Roberts, who steadfastly refuses to attempt happiness a second time. This refusal, as well as his realization of his exploitation at the hands of his Rugby teams owners, drives a once optimistic Machin into an abyss of self-destruction and violence. The black and white photography adds to the bleak and dismal tone of the film but also helps to convey the films reflection of the time. The slow motion close-ups of the savagery taking place on the Rugby field are simply stunning. I bet they are even more so when seen on the big screen. If you are a fan of escapist blockbuster movies, you want to pass this one by but for those who have an interest in 20th century post-war Britain, this is one you won't want to miss.
Foyle's War (Series I-IV)
Foyle's War is an engaging series originally aired on PBS Masterpiece Theatre (Mystery) which mixes stories of WWII Britain with tales of crime and suspense. Set along the south coast of Britain, the series chronicles the lives of Detective Superintendent Christopher Foyle and his colleagues as they confront everything from sabotage to biological warfare, murder to stolen supplies. DCS Foyle is a quiet, introspective policeman with a dedication to solving complex crimes. He is joined in the series by a spirited young woman driver, a son who has enlisted in the RAF, and a police sergeant just back from the front...and it is these main characters that provide the winning human drama of the series. Michael Kitchen stars as DCS Foyle and Samantha Stewart as Honeysuckle Weeks. Season V, consisting of three episodes, will air on PBS on Sunday evenings starting on July 13, 2008.
Vincent Price gives an uncharacteristically (for him) underplayed, excellent performance as 17th century "witch hunter" Matthew Hopkins, who during the English Civil War, roamed the British countryside hunting down so-called witches. Director Michael Reeves' 1968 film was unjustly overlooked when first released but this unsettling dark, violent and horrific thriller pulls no punches in its depiction of Hopkins' terrifying torture of citizens and his extorting of villages. The downbeat ending will stay with you long after the movie ends. With Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer. Color.
After years of floating around in lousy, pan and scanned public domain video copies, Anchor Bay Entertainment has finally released a pristine, letterboxed edition (in bright color!) of Sergio Corbucci's 1967 Italian/Spanish western, The Hellbenders. This unrelentingly grim, yet exciting and violent (keep the kiddies away from this one) action thriller takes place after the end of the Civil War and centers around former Confederate Army Colonel Jonas (Joseph Cotton) and his three sons as they roam the southwest transporting a stolen million dollars in a deluded effort to revive the Confederacy. But Things Go Wrong (encounters with Indians, double crossing allies, bandits, misguided acts of kindness, etc,), resulting in one of the most downbeat and cruel endings that invokes the memory of Kubrick's The Killing in spirit. The film is nevertheless exhilarating in its pacing and situations despite it's cynical tone so you won't be bored! With "spaghetti western" cast veterans Julian Matcos, Gino Pernice and Angel Aranda as Jonas' sons, plus Norma Bengall and from the 1966 Sergio Leone classic, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (also recommended), Al Mulock and Aldo Sambrell.
Captain Beefheart: Under Review (an independent critical analysis)
The music of Captain Beefheart (ne Don Van Vliet) is an acquired taste, albeit one well worth acquiring. Perhaps no one in popular music embodies the phrase "cult artist" better. Regrettably, he has not recorded an album since 1982's Ice Cream for Crow. Nowadays, Beefheart paints and sculpts and his works in these media have achieved considerable acclaim, although multiple sclerosis has seriously diminished his output of late. The rather imposing title of this DVD might lead you to believe you were taking home a relatively scholarly assessment of the Good Captain's oeuvre. At 115 minutes in length, it does go into quite a lot of detail about each of CB's albums, but it does so in the context of interviews with various members of various Magic Bands, which provide all kinds of interesting insights regarding Beefheart's musical modus operandi and personal idiosyncrasies. Only a modest amount of live footage of Beefheart performances is included, but if you care for his music, you'll find this DVD fascinating.
Although it's an animated film, anyone who hasn't seen this masterful work should and if possible bring along the kids. The eighth of the Pixar films, it tells the story of a rat (Remy) who has an uncanny sense of smell and a distaste for his family's lifestyle of stealing human garbage. This inclination leads him to learn to cook from watching Chef Gusteau (perhaps a friendly French version of Dom Delouise) on the television set of the house that his rat colony inhabits, a chef whose motto is "anyone can cook." When the colony is discovered and subsequently uprooted Remy is left behind and after floating down a river into the sewers, finds himself alone in Paris, led by chance to Gusteau's restaurant. He there meets Linguini, a hapless garbage boy working in the famous restaurant, and the two forge a bond and friendship that propels them into the fast-paced, high-pressure, often terrible world of haute cuisine. The movie is touching, amusing, insightful, and beautiful in a way that I've seldom seen in the world of animation. Where many animated films these days are geared towards young children and remain mired in the realm of trite unrealism, Ratatouille tells a great story with a good moral, is peopled by fairly realistic characters and carries a humor throughout it that is truly touching and lingers well after the film's end. It also delves into the relationship between the rat and his human friend, between son and father, and between the chef and the critic, and as Remy finds himself more and more attracted to the human world he finds that he must balance this attraction with his family's fear and loathing of the race that generally (especially in dining circles) despises and exterminates rodents. For anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry or just enjoys the fine dining experience, the film is a must-see. The animation is the best that Pixar has done yet, blending the hand-drawn with the computer-generated in the inimitable way that the studio has mastered. And for those who have ever yearned to go or return to Paris, Ratatouille also manages to beautifully recreate life along the Seine near the Ile de Paris, Notre-Dame, and Pont-Neuf. One of my favorites.
God Grew Tired of Us
I saw a movie recently that really touched me. It's God Grew Tired of Us. It's a documentary about a group of young men called the "Lost Boys" who were part of a group of approx. 67,000 orphaned children, mostly boys from babies to teenagers who were forced to flee their homeland of Sudan and "grow up" in refugee camps with basically each other as surrogate family members. A few of them were lucky enough to be able to resettle in America but often missed their friends and family and found that adjusting to the new culture in America was difficult. It was inspiring to see what people in unimaginable circumstances can survive and even rise above. It also made me wish as a country we had and would do more.
Ten Little Indians
One film that really left an impression on me as a kid was Ten Little Indians, exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers' first remake of the 1945 movie classic And Then There Were None. In a remote castle somewhere in the Alps, ten strangers, each with something to hide, discover they're to be killed by the unseen "U.N. Owen". How will they get out? A great (mostly Eurocentric) one-of-a-kind cast that includes Hugh O'Brien, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Daliah Lavi, Dennis Price and Fabian (!), plus the voice of Christopher Lee, moody black and white lighting and a unexpected (for ten-year-old me, anyway) climax make this remake stand out. (I went and took the Agatha Christie book this film was based on out of the library after first seeing it!) The "whodunit" break (in which, during the climax, a narrator asks the audience to consider the clues racked up and guess who the murderer is) which was in the version I saw, is included on the DVD as an extra, but otherwise this film is worth your attention. (Producer Towers would again remake the film, less successfully, in 1974 and 1989, respectively.)
La Vie en Rose
La Vie en Rose is a terrifically moving and powerful movie largely fueled by the dynamic performance of Marion Cotillard as the enchanting, yet troubled, French singing sensation Edith Piaf. Starting literally in the streets of Paris, Piaf rose to stardom and became a fabled chanteuse within France and then on many world stages. Cotillard, who recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in La Vie en Rose, particularly captures the pathos of Piaf's life after fame brings her to alcohol and drug dependence. Yet, when she sang her voice and songs mesmerized her audiences. With the Academy Award season here, this movie and Cotillard's performance should be among the nominations in the Oscar sweepstakes. For those interested in learning more about Piaf's life, The Greenwich Library has several books in its collection about this great entertainer. La Vie en Rose is strongly recommended as an outstanding movie.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Noted social realist director Kenneth Loach takes a break from the tenements and back streets and presents us with a much needed history lesson. Always in the corner of the underdog Loach tells the story of the 1920 I.R.A. uprising in Ireland. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty leave no doubt where their sympathies lie. The film portrays the Black and Tans (the British soldiers sent to put down the rebellion) as ferocious and brutal. But... while representing the struggle of the Irish insurgents it still manages to show their faults as well. Without too much hyperbole, the movie provides an understanding of how Ireland became independent in 1920-1921. The mostly unknown (in the U.S. anyway) cast gives one of the most truthful performances I have ever seen. At the core are two brothers, Teddy and Damien, who ultimately end up on two sides of the divide. Teddy is a leader in the fight to gain independence from England. Damian is a doctor who is soon to be off to London to work in a prestigious hospital. What these two experience in a short period of time is more harrowing than most of us (thankfully) deal with in a lifetime. The action on screen is, at times, hard to watch but most certainly not gratuitous. But what transpires onscreen is the antithesis of the Hollywood blockbuster. This is an artful and thoughtful film. Make sure you turn the subtitles on; the brogue can be a bit tough to follow. This film was deservedly the winner of the Palme D'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
The Fall of the House of Usher & The Pit and the Pendulum
Together on one double-sided disc, director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price's first two film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works are now available. House of Usher is a solid retelling of Poe's classic about the cursed Usher family. Pit is screenwriter Richard Matheson (author of the original 1954 I Am Legend novel; he also adapted the aforementioned Usher film)'s slightly more plot-heavy take on the Poe tale with more backstory for the characters and featuring a classically hammy (but not bad) performance by Price (in a dual role). With audio commentary tracks by Roger Corman himself (who reveals, among other things, that he managed to "sell" the Usher film to AIP Studios by insisting that it was a monster movie and that the "monster" was the house itself!) and two beautifully digitally restored prints, this double feature shouldn't be passed up!
The Mario Bava Collection Volume One
Film director Mario Bava (1914-1980) was responsible for some of the best horror and mystery films (as well as an occasional western or adventure thriller) to be released in the 60s & 70s. A former classical painter, Bava first entered the Italian film industry as a cinematographer and special effects technician. After doing second unit work as an assistant director, Bava was given his own films to direct starting in 1960. Anchor Bay Entertainment has now released this digitally remastered collection of five of his earliest films (in clor and black & white) beginning with Bava's first movie as official director, the haunting and atmospheric Black Sunday (1960) about a young woman (Barbara Steele) and her family tormented by an evil witch/vampire (also played by Steele).
The four other films included in this set are:
- Black Sabbath (1963): An anthology of short horror stories hosted by Boris Karloff, who also plays a vampire(!) in one of the stories. (NOTE: This is the original Italian version, with a slightly different running time and with the stories re-edited, not the dubbed American version that came out here in 1964. This version is in Italian with English subtitles.)
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963): A young woman visiting relatives accidently witnesses a murder...or does she? With the help of young doctor John Saxon, she tries to find out. (NOTE: Orginally released in the US as The Evil Eye in a dubbed & reedited version, the version presented here is in Italian, with English subtitles.)
- Kill, Baby...Kill! (1966): Despite the silly explotative title, this long-unavailable film about the homicidal ghost of a slain young girl terrorizing a small village is one of the scariest horror films ever made. Full of dark and brooding imagery with an unforgettable ending!
- Knives of the Avenger (1966): Think Alan Ladd's great western Shane remade as a Viking epic (albeit on a low budget)! The one non-horror/mystery film in this collection, this one finds the lone hero (Cameron Mitchell), who's really good with a knife, trying to save the king and his family from a disloyal and evil general. But what secret link does Mitchell's character share with the king's son? Fun and exciting, with terrific action scenes, and a nice break from the heaviness of the previous films in this collection (although Mitchell really is one moody Viking).
Zatōichi (movie series)
If you are at all a fan of samurai cinema and have never heard the name Zatōichi, then you're in for a real treat. Played by the controversial but undeniably talented Shintaro Katsu, Zatōichi is a blind masseur travelling about Japan during the Edo period who ekes out a living as a lowly Yakuza. In addition to his skills as a masseur and a gambler, however, Zatōichi has another, more unlikely, skill, one that simultaneously makes him the subject of both admiration and fear among his contemporaries: swordsmanship. Feats that the most skilled of his sighted samurai peers can only hope to accomplish with great difficulty (if at all), Zatōichi can usually perform with unnerving ease. Though he is blind, Zatōichi's other senses are as razor-sharp as his sword, to the point where his perception is preternaturally keen. His enhanced senses and his mastery of the sword combine to make Zatōichi an unstoppable killing machine when circumstances demand it.
But Zatōichi is more than just a dangerous swordsman. He is the "everyman" hero, defender of the meek, punisher of the unjust, and he will only reach for his sword when his opponents leave him no other choice, preferring instead to use his wits to resolve problems whenever possible. He is possessed of honor, humor and humility, contrasting sharply with the typical dour arrogance of the various self-important thugs and corrupt officials he encounters. In short, Zatōichi's qualities reflect the core ideals of Japanese martial culture, making him one of their most popular and enduring icons.
This 1950 film has been dismissed by some as one of Hitchcock's "minor works." It's not a masterpiece on par with Rear Window or Strangers on a Train. but there's much for the Hitchcock fan to appreciate; beginning with the much discussed and debated "false flashback" that starts the picture, to Hitch's usual stunning set pieces to all the great acting, from Jane Wyman to Richard Todd. But it's the masterful presence of the great Alastair Sim, however, that makes Stage Fright one of Hitchcock's most enjoyable to watch. Few actors have his ability of making the most average of dialogues sound like a powerful oration (I bet he sounded Shakespearean when reading his shopping list.) Marlene Dietrich also shows up as well.
Wyman plays the classic Hitchcockian character who unknowingly gets in over her heard when her ex-lover (Todd) is suspected of murder. She buys his story of innocence and helps him evade the police until eventually the truth gets revealed. It's true that the pacing at times can be a bit slow but the intricate, twisting story line needs time to play itself out. The careful viewer will be rewarded.
Strangers With Candy
If you live and die by political correctness, are easily offended and have no sense of humor, you'll want to stop reading this review. Now.
Okay, you were warned, so don't come crying to me when your delicate sensibilities get all roughed-up and trampled on by this movie.
Before its untimely cancellation a few years back, Strangers With Candy was a cult hit television series on the Comedy Channel that starred Amy Sedaris (sister of comedy writer David Sedaris), Paul Dinello (also one of the show's writers, like Amy Sedaris), Stephen Colbert (if you haven't heard of Stephen Colbert by now, I can't even imagine the size of the rock you live under), and others too numerous to mention here, but including cameos from a major star every now and then.
In a nutshell, Strangers With Candy is about ex-con Jerri Blank, "a boozer, a user, and a loser" who decides at the tender age of 46 to leave her sordid life of drug abuse, thievery and prostitution behind and go back to high school in an attempt to start her life over. Jerri returns home to her "family" to find that her father is in a permanent coma while her step-mother is having an on-going affair with the meat man, and her nemesis half-brother is a dim-witted jock aspiring to the school's varsity "squat-thrust" team. At school, her manically egocentric science teacher, Charles "Chuck" Noblet is having a torrid love affair with art teacher Geoffrey "Joffrey" Jellineck. Jerri, meanwhile, throws herself at pretty much anything that moves (including new friend and fellow freshman, Tammi Littlenut), while Principal Onyx Blackman rules over all with the eagle eye and firm resolve that come with his need to manipulate school resources to cover his gambling debts.
Now, I know you must be asking yourself, "But what's the twist, library-man?" I'm so glad you asked. The twist is that Jerri's misadventures are treated like so many of those banal after-school specials you may have been forced to endure while growing up. You know--the ones where the main character learned some kind of poignant lesson or moral at the end of the story? But I'm pretty sure the lessons Jerri Blank learns were never covered by any network television after-school special; network censors would never have allowed it. Strangers With Candy, the movie, is like a 90-minute episode of the show. It may not break new ground, but it doesn't disappoint either. All of the irreverent, rude, crude, and politically-incorrect humor is there, and the cast is in terrific form. The only thing this reviewer was left wanting for was more.
Fans of 60s television remember The Avengers, which first aired here in 1966-69, as a colorful, tongue-in-cheek send-up of the spy genre, with various science fictional elements thrown in, as well as Patrick Macnee as suave agent John Steed and Diana Rigg and intelligent, sexy and independent partner Mrs. Peel. Well, before the Macnee-Rigg episodes were first produced, the series had already run in England since 1961, shot in one-take-only sequence, in black and white and on videotape. The earliest surviving episodes have now been collected as part of the Avengers '62 DVD set and they're quite a contrast to the later episodes. Fourteen episodes from 1962, featuring Macnee's Steed working with three different partners (only one of which, Honor Blackman's Mrs. Cathy Gale, would last beyond three episodes; Blackman stayed with the series until 1964) and going after mundane killers and enemy spies. Yet the shows do have a certain crude charm (the fight scenes, done live, are unintentionally funny), with a slowly developing sense of wit coming through (such as a hitman using a teddy bear to interview clients) that would develop in future seasons. Plus, Blackman's Cathy Gale predates Rigg's Mrs. Peel as an independent and self-reliant woman, able to take care of herself without any help from men, which wasn't the norm back in the early 60s. Recommended episodes: "Mr. Teddy Bear", "Death Dispatch", "Propellant 23".
Director Kenneth Loach has always championed the downtrodden and the underdogs in his films. The reality he puts forth in these films is stunning in its authenticity. The locale here is Manchester in the north of England, specifically a council estate and the people who live there.
While starting out as a bit of comedy, the heart of the film is an out of work man named Bob Williams and his desperation to get the money together to pay for his daughter's Catholic Communion outfit. Although he tries very hard to get the money honestly he ends up borrowing money from loan sharks, and things begin to go downhill. His overwhelming love for his daughter is evident and his struggle to provide for her and his wife is both heartbreaking and inspirational.
As often with Loach, behind an ostensible political message, lies a complex moral analysis of real people's lives, handled with great sensitivity.
One of the best & most violent "spaghetti westerns" ever made was director Sergio Corbucci's "Django" (1966). A mysterious stranger (Franco Nero) enters a practically dead town dragging a small casket along with him. Bracketing the town is mutual hatred between a gang of bandits and a group of red-hooded racists. Which side does the stranger pick? Check out our DVD, which offers both the English and Italian (with optional subtitles) soundtracks and see how this film influenced the likes of Quentin Tarantino (who's "borrowed" quite a few scenes from this film to use in his own) and Robert Rodriquez.
Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny
Even if you only like Metal a little bit, you'll love Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny. Funnyman Jack Black and guitarist/sidekick Kyle Gass strap on their over-sized six stringers and rock out in this thoroughly hilarious re-telling of the origins of Tenacious D. Complete with cameos by Dave Grohl, Meatloaf, Ronnie James Dio, and Sasquatch, this movie was so chock full of metal that you might want to make sure your DVD Player has had its most recent tetanus shot before watching it. With killer riffs, epic battles between Wizards and Demons, and a drum solo by Satan himself, the only thing missing from this movie were a couple of songs off of the excellent soundtrack album that didn't make it into the film, including my personal favorite: "The Government Totally Sucks".
The Twilight Samurai
Seibei Iguchi is a low-ranking Samurai forced to perform piecework to supplement his paltry clan wage in order to support himself, his two daughters and his senile old mother after his wife succumbs to tuberculosis. As if life wasn't hard enough, Seibei takes it upon himself to defend a friend in a forbidden duel of honor versus the cruel ex-husband of his friend's sister, Tomoe, a woman whom Seibei himself would marry if only it didn't mean inflicting his own unfortunate circumstances upon her as well. News of Seibei's hither-unknown battle prowess gets out, and he soon finds himself faced with the task of dispatching a renegade--and extremely deadly--samurai of his own clan. Seibei is forced to choose between following his heart and performing his duty, a choice that comes with unexpected results.
Set during the last days of shogunate Japan, The Twilight Samurai is a moving tale of honor, love, class struggle and hardship during a time of great social upheaval.
Friday The 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan
Follow in the bloody wake of Jason Voorhees, the "man behind the mask", on his endless quest for revenge against irresponsible teenagers like the ones who let him drown as a boy in Crystal Lake. Heralded as the original slasher film, Friday the 13th spawned many sequels (and many imitators), but what this viewer found most interesting was not so much the suspense and the wanton carnage, but rather Jason's transformation through the series; he begins as a somewhat human, back-woods child of horror and misfortune bent on revenge, and as the series progresses, Jason seems to become more proficient and more coordinated in his killing--this really becomes apparent from the moment he first dons the hockey mask in Part III. In fact, his transformation takes him fully into the supernatural (assuming he wasn't to begin with), so that his natural human physical vulnerabilities slowly fall by the wayside as he evolves into an unstoppable killing machine, able to be anywhere and everywhere and to survive just about anything despite his outward physical deterioration. In short, he becomes the ultimate "bogeyman". There's sure to be some subtext in these films as well about the questionable social legacy our Puritanical forefathers left us in this country, and how "deserving" of violence each of Jason's victims is in their own way for their supposed "sins", but in the end, these movies are meant to be enjoyed for their scare value, interspersed with the occasional bit of gallows humor, that makes us all glad we aren't singing kumbaya around a campfire at Camp Crystal Lake while something unseen and sinister circles close by us in the dark.
Star/director Cornel Wilde, a year after the deserved success of his previous film, "The Naked Prey" (and, hey, Paramount Pictures: when is this terrific film coming out on DVD?), returned to the screen with 1967's "Beach Red", a harrowing World War II tale about the American invasion of a Japanese-held island in the pacific. Kicking off with an amazingly bloody and horrific battle on the beach (which looks awfully similar to the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", released 31 years later), the film quickly shifts focus to the inner thoughts, fears and memories of the soldiers on both sides. The American commander, played by Wilde, like many of his fellow soldiers, including Rip Torn, and their Japanese counterparts on the island, just wants to go back home to his family, but "duty" -and the seemingly never ending brutal battles- prevails over all else. Good action sequences and involving performances (Torn is especially good) make this anti-war film stand out.
Broken Lizard is back! The hilarious comedy troupe who brought us such side-splitters as "Super Troopers" and "Club Dread" have done it again with "Beerfest". This over-the-top laugh riot is chock full of the kind of low brow hilariousness we've come to expect from Director Jay Chandrasekhar and his fellow Lizards. The film centers around two brothers who get themselves out-drunk by a team of Germans at Beerfest (a kind of underground Super Bowl of Drinking Games) and then decide to return with their own team of American drinkers to settle the score. With National pride on the line, will our intrepid heroes be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? You'll have to borrow the DVD to find out.
Horror of Dracula
Probably the best horror movie to come out of England's Hammer Films in the 50s and 60s, "Horror of Dracula" (1958) introduced movie audiences to Christopher Lee's powerful, dynamic and scary interpretation of Bram Stoker's immortal Count Dracula. The film's screenplay, due to budget concerns, omits some characters and situations, even eliminating the book's London locale, but director Terence Fisher's sense of pacing, plus some genuine scares and a slam-bang climatic confrontation between Dracula and heroic vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (the equally dynamic Peter Cushing, whose character is so fanatical about destroying the Count that he even physically throws himself at the vampire ) keep the movie percolating from start to finish. (The film would spawn several sequels, of uneven quality, through the 1970's.)
This 1978 movie was a huge departure for director Woody Allen. Made in between Annie Hall and Manhattan this film has very little in common with those films. Made at the height of his creative prowess, Allen sets comedy aside for a moment in order to explore the relationship of a sadly dysfunctional family. "Interiors" is, essentially, the story of an upper-class family shattered by the divorce of the parents and the ensuing collapse of the mother, played by Geraldine Page. One daughter (Diane Keaton) keeps giving her false hope that her husband will return. Another daughter (Mary Beth Hurt) tries to get her mother to face reality. Both attempts are in vain and their mother becomes a burden to all in many ways. The mother's descent into madness leaves the family reeling and exposes many rifts that for years appeared to have been buried.
Many critics mention that this film has much in common with the bleak films of Ingmar Bergman; having very little familiarity with Bergman I can't say if they are right. What I do know is that Allen made a film with nary a laugh to be found. Also...the film is nearly bereft of any music at all, which was another departure for Allen. Music does pop up near the end of the film, in a scene that Maureen Stapleton (who plays the father's new found love interest) plays with devastating effectiveness.
Somber, bleak, quiet and stark are the terms that come to mind when I think about this film, but also thought-provoking. The beautifully ambiguous ending left me thinking about this movie for several days.
Northern Exposure has got to be one of my favorite television programs of all time. Quirky and offbeat, with unique characters and stories that could go in any direction but the expected, this show sparked the imagination of the young man I once was. I had been patiently waiting for it to come out on DVD so I could relive that past excitement and see if its hold over me was still there. Imagine my pleasure when I saw it right here on the shelves of our Library! We've got the first 4 seasons, and I'm sure we'll have them all once they are released. I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys excellent television.
Cross of Iron
One of the best anti-war films ever done was ignored upon its initial 1978 American release, in part due to the notoriety of it's director, the legendary Sam Peckinpah. Cross of Iron focuses on the trials of German soldiers at the Russian Front during World War II. Corporal (later Sgt.) Steiner (James Coburn) is more interested in keeping his men alive while his ambitious superior (Maximilian Schell) dreams only of personal glory and winning the coveted Iron Cross. Meanwhile the German High Command (personified by James Mason and David Warner, among others) prefer to run things bureaucratically all the while ignoring their soldiers' ultimately doomed plight. Despite an obvious low budget, this is a well crafted and edited flick, with the typical Peckinpah spotlight on brutal, uncompromising and unglamorized violence. Check it out.
This has to be the coolest movie based on a cancelled Sci-Fi TV show I've ever seen. Set in a post-Earth future, Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the Firefly Class Starship Serenity leads a motley crew of adventurers thru 119 minutes of action and drama. When the totalitarian Government of the future realizes that one of it's most promising research subjects has escaped with secrets that could shake the power structure of the Galaxy to its very core, they will stop at nothing to eliminate her. They send an agent - a man unencumbered by fear, pity, or remorse (brilliantly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) to stop her. Joss Whedon of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer directed - fans of his signature mixture of sci-fi action and witty dialogue will not be disappointed.
Why We Fight
I won't pretend that this was the most objective film I've ever seen, but then again it is hard to imagine anyone who has actually gone to the trouble of researching and producing a 98 minute documentary about the military industrial complex finding much good to say about it. As long as there are people who make money by selling weapons, there will always be pressure to make war. When the World's most powerful nation decides to enter into a preemptive war against a much weaker foe in the name of self-defense, and against the will of huge segments of its own population, it's pretty safe to say that the military industrial complex holds far too much sway over the direction of that nation. I'd recommend this film to anyone who wants to hear an alternative viewpoint to the corporate media's take on the reasons why we go to war.
The Red Shoes
About a year ago, I caught the beginning of this movie on TV. It was late, and even though I really was enjoying it, I could not stay awake past the first half hour. However, I promised myself I had to see it. I was reminded of this film back in January when I read that the lead character, the gorgeous Moira Shearer, had died. I immediately checked out the DVD, and wished I had done so sooner. This movie is visually stunning. The costumes and sets are drenched with color, probably to compete with Ms. Shearer's blazing red hair. The story, though a familiar one, is still entertaining, as the characters are well-developed. The ballet itself is a story within a story, which mirrors the main plot of the movie. The music is also wonderful - especially during the "Red Shoes Ballet" segment. Even if you're not a big ballet fan, this movie is enjoyable in its own right.
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
This great, under-rated 1964 movie stars Kim Stanley as an unbalanced woman who holds seances in her home and concocts a plot to gain celebrity with her so-called "powers". With the help of her husband, she plans to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy couple, then use her "powers" to reveal the girl's whereabouts.
What's most interesting about the plot is that very little attention is paid to the kidnapped girl and her fate. Rather, it's the twisted, deluded couple (Richard Attenborough plays the role of Stanley's beaten down husband with understated beauty) that is at the center of the film. Stanley is oblivious to the fact that her "idea" is a train wreck and has no hope of working but her husband, being emotionally dependent on her, doesn't have the courage to dissent (even though it is obvious he knows the eventual outcome.)
Stanley really steals the show here but there are so many other elements that make this movie so great. The gliding camera-work is simply amazing, the music choices fit the action perfectly, and the the film features the most believable money hand-off sequence I've ever seen, done without any dialogue.
The Constant Gardener
The waiting list for this one is long, but definitely worth it. This is a wonderful thriller set in Africa, where a diplomat is trying to get behind the culprits who murdered his wife, much to the chagrin of his employers at the British High Commission. Intrigue abounds, and you're kept in suspense throughout the movie. The acting is low key, but effective. The cinematography is quite beautiful - the African landscape as well as Ralph Fiennes (sigh).
Born into Brothels
I was really moved by this DVD that I saw quite a while ago but think about every so often. It's a documentary about a photographer that went to an area of Calcutta to film a documentary about women's lives in these brothels. She ends up teaching the children who live there to take photographs and it totally changes their lives. Instead of being stuck in this lifestyle they are able to go to school and have decent lives. It was very inspiring and creatively filmed. You really felt like you were there and got to know the kids because it follows their progress over time. I also like the music in it.
Rebecca is hands-down my favorite movie of all time. It's a great story and the performances are spectacular. Dame Judith Anderson is perfect as Mrs. Danvers, but my absolute favorite is George Sanders as the sleazy "cousin" Jack Favell, who adds a welcome touch of humor. The only flaw in this movie is that Joan Fontaine is far too beautiful to be the mousy "second Mrs. deWinter," but other than that, this is a perfect film. There's something in it for everyone: suspense, romance, comedy, and a good story.
The Outer Limits
The original 1963-65 Outer Limits television series was one of the coolest & scariest SF/horror anthology programs ever produced. With stark, brooding black & white photography, bizarre creatures & situations, and a sense of morality tinged with cynicism, the "Limits" created a world of mystery & suspense all it's own. Episodes such as "The Galaxy Being" (where an intelligent but radioactive alien is accidentally brought to a hostile Earth), "O.B.I.T." (about aliens spying on & undermining morale at a government research base) and "The Sixth Finger" (a scientist's efforts to advance Man's evolutionary process almost ends in tragedy for the planet) both entertained audiences and provoked thought about how our lives really run. The 32 first season episodes have been collected on four DVD discs for interested audiences. Yes, there are clunkers ("Tourist Attraction" & "ZZZZ" come to mind), but you won't be bored. AND you get to see up-and-coming unknowns like Robert Culp, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Kellerman, Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall and a very young Martin Sheen appear.
Bill Maher: I'm Swiss
Bill Maher: I'm Swiss is without doubt one of the funniest standup comedy acts I've seen in a long time. Full of witty observations about the sad state of our Nation, Maher's sharp tongue and biting sarcasm will make you laugh as well as think. If you enjoyed Bill's TV show, you should enjoy this DVD even more - there are no commercials or corporate sponsors to get in the way of the comedy and social criticism.
Billion Dollar Brain
Billion Dollar Brain was recently added to the Library's collection and suddenly found itself with 22 requests placed on it. Not bad for a 1967 film that very few people have ever heard of !! It is the third of the Len Deighton Harry Palmer spy sagas after IPCRESS FILE and FUNERAL IN BERLIN. What sets this apart is the brilliant direction by the British filmmaker Ken Russell. This was Russell's first big feature after a series of highly acclaimed BBC-TV documentaries on the lives of composers and artists. It was followed by WOMEN IN LOVE which really made people sit up and take notice.
The intricate Cold War plot follows MI5 agent Harry (Michael Caine) into Latvia and Helsinki, Finland to track down a series of double agents while also delivering a thermos of deadly toxins. Harry has an amorous liaison with Francoise Dorleac and mysterious encounters with fellow agent Karl Malden. Two more colorful characters in the person of a Russian General Oscar Homulka and a fanatic right-wing Texan General Midwinter (Ed Begley) stir the pot. It culminates in Begley's invasion of the Soviet Union with the help of computers ("I've got enough information here to program communism from the face of the earth"). This last sequence is a masterful parody of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky.
This film was finally released to DVD after 38 years in limbo and is a joy to watch for the beautiful camerawork (includes breathtaking winter vistas in the snow), for the intricate plot, and for the subtle humor that pops up all the time.
The 40 Year-Old Virgin
It may be lowbrow gutter humor but...at least it's extremely well-done lowbrow gutter humor. What makes this movie so great, among other things, is a great, very funny script and Steve Carrell's performance as the title character. He doesn't overdo it and comes across both as believable and likeable. It also features Catherine Keener, one of my favorite actresses, as Carrell's love interest. Not only does she also give us laughs but it is crazy to see how brightly she fuels the story. This movie gives hope to obsessive toy collectors and video game players everywhere (no...that wouldn't be me.) So, please, set the Masterpiece Theater DVD's aside for a night and give yourself a naughty treat. You won't be sorry.
I am not sure what really happens in this inscrutable debut feature from director Shane Carruth but it was a lot of fun trying to piece it all together. Something about time travel I'm sure but the rest is up in the air. So, how about this? You watch it and let me know what you think is going on: email@example.com
With all of the recent excitement about the real identity of Deep Throat, why not try a different take on Watergate. The movie Dick is a funny film starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as two teenagers who inadvertently get caught up in the Watergate scandal while mailing a fan letter to Bobby Sherman. An excellent cast includes veterans of "The Kids in the Hall", as well as a hilarious performance by Dan Hedaya of Richard Nixon. A surprisingly witty film, especially considering the title.
Robot Stories is not a single film, but actually four short films by up and coming director Greg Pak (winner - Asian American International Film Festival, 2003: Emerging Director Award). This DVD really took me by surprise - I was expecting Science Fiction, and there is some of that, but it doesn't get bogged down in overly technical explanations of things. Taking place in a near-future world, each story features robots in some form or another, but what the films are really about is the very human emotion of love, and it's many manifestations. Whether it is love between a mother and child, two workers searching for a soul mate, or an artist and her art, these "Robot Stories" all speak to the very core of what makes us human - our emotional bonds with each other. If you want a break from the usual Hollywood fare, I highly recommend this film - It will certainly make you think, and might even make you cry.
Labor issues are rarely a subject of motion pictures...and for very good reason. The workplace is rarely sexy and life in the factory doesn't offer many opportunities for a scriptwriter to weave a story. But the French director Laurent Cantent has made a film where the drama of human relationships manages to overcome the limitations of its settings.
Human Resources, shows the dehumanizing effect of mechanical labor on the relationship between a father and his son in rural France. Franck is a young intern who works for the same company in which his father has toiled for thirty years. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with his supervisors, Franck sets into motion a series of events that causes rifts in his family life as well as the livelihood of workers and their union.
Besides great acting, the movies' quality is abetted by being shot in a real factory, creating an authenticity furthered by its cast of actual factory employees. In tackling an issue that Hollywood has stayed miles away from, Cantet has made us aware of the daily drudgery of millions of people around the world for whom compromise and submission is a way of life.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Quite possibly one of the finest stoner films I've ever seen. Our intrepid heroes, Harold and Kumar, are the Cheech and Chong of twenty-something, professional, second generation Americans, who remind us that you don't need to look like a hippie to get high. What starts out as a quest for late-night munchies, turns into something much more than that: the search for the American Dream. Their cannabis-fueled pursuit takes them all over New Jersey on their way to White Castle, a sort of hamburger Holy Grail which only reveals itself after the duo have evidenced sufficient personal growth and are ready to accept their reward. Despite its deeper messages, this movie will make you laugh so hard that bong water will squirt out of your nose.
Prime Suspect 6: The Last
Jane Tennison returns after a seven-year hiatus. Two illegal immigrants, sisters who were rape and torture victims in the Bosnian conflict, have been killed, and gathering evidence on the "prime suspect" is being blocked not only Jane's superiors, but by the British government as well. Although Jane is eligible for retirement, and is feeling some pressure to resign from the department, a visit with her aged father makes her decide to risk it all to bring the man to justice.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was unjustly overlooked when it opened in theatres last summer. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, the 2003 film features a group of 19th century literary characters, such as Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (and friend), "an" (not "the") Invisible Man, Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray, led by H. Rider Haggard's Alan Quartermain (Sean Connery) to stop a dangerous criminal from starting a world war in 1899 Europe. Full of exciting stunts, effects and in-jokes (catch the name of Nemo's first mate), League is a terrific fantasy/adventure from beginning to end!
Stop, I know what you're going to say - "Rick, we thought you were supposed to be metal, then why are you recommending the musical Hair?" Yes, it is a musical, but the fact that the movie is about a bunch hippies taking drugs makes it seem much more natural when people burst into song in the middle of a conversation. All of the musical numbers are excellent, if you're in the right frame of mind for this type of film. Director Milos Forman keeps you interested with some fascinating camera work, and never lets the musical aspect take away from his very visual style of story telling.
Jamie Lee Curtis Jamie Lee Curtis gives a fantastic performance as a middle aged woman who wakes up one morning to find that she and her teenage daughter are in each other's body. In the process of trying to find a way to get back into their own selves they come to understand and appreciate what life is like for each other. The younger brother is just too obnoxious to be believed, and the grandfather is a bit annoying, but Mark Harmon does a good job as the mother's bewildered fiancé.
Capturing the Friedmans
A fascinating true story of a well-respected schoolteacher on Long Island that is arrested, along with his young son, for abusing his students. Definitely not light moviegoing fare, but a really gripping story that leaves you questioning everyone involved. The filmmaker makes no judgments, he merely lets the people involved speak for themselves. I still don't know who is telling the truth. Maybe they all are.
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Full Spectrum Dominance, by Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky - We've all heard the name before. And the quote, "Noam Chomsky is one of the most important intellectuals of our age", is often repeated. But sometimes people my age can find all of this clout off-putting. I mean, who really wants to read a book by an "important intellectual" anyway? I think that if you give him a chance, most readers will find Chomsky to be engaging, thought-provoking, perhaps even life-changing. But where to start? A quick search of our catalog reveals 30 titles by this author. To ease you into the world of Noam Chomsky, I'd start with the DVD version of Manufacturing Consent". If that peaks your interest, try the audiobook version of Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Full Spectrum Dominance. After that, there are plenty of books to choose from. Enjoy!
School of Rock
I really wanted to hate School of Rock, but I just couldn't. This movie is hysterically funny, and touching. Jack Black plays a washed-up musician of mediocre talent (the characterwill seem very familiar to the Tenacious D fans out there.) Posing as a substitute teacher, he is able to teach the children at an uptight private school how to rock out, among other valuable lessons. Joan Cusak is her usual charming self as the stern, neurotic principal that has a secret wild side.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone's 1969 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West is a simple, straightforward story of a widow (Claudia Cardinale) trying to fight off an evil gunfighter (Henry Fonda as you've never pictured him before!) working for a corrupt railroad baron, with only mysterious Charles Bronson and talkative Jason Robards looking out for her. But the plot is really an excuse for Leone to show the end of the old west (The middle aged gunmen nearing the end of their days) and the coming of civilization (The railroad; Self-sufficient women). Lovingly photographed & staged. From Paramount Home Entertainment (165 minutes plus audio commentary & extras). See also: Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad & The Ugly with Clint Eastwood & Eli Wallach.
The Man Who Cried
The story starts out in Russia with a father and his young daughter. The father is forced to leave the country and goes to America but promises to send for his daughter. The daughter shipped to England and adopted by an elderly English couple and she learns to sing. She joins a theatre company that brings her to Paris. There she meets a Gypsy with a horse, a Tenor and the invasion of the Germans into France. This movie beautifully portrays the lives of these people of different backgrounds and cultures and they must do to survive.