Thursday, May 21, 2015

Flick Picks 5/22/2015: American Sniper, Fifty Shades of Grey, Leviathan

Serious business, serious business and a bit of, uh...monkey business?  this week.  The top grossing film of 2014 has arrived on DVD in the form of American Sniper.  We also have the much-praised Russian film Leviathan.  Not to mention the cinematic adaptation of that publishing sensation known as Fifty Shades of Grey.  Need a stiff drink after all of that?  Understandable, much as we can't help you.  But if you need some more carefree entertainment, try the first two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer, or the final go-round of  t.v. powerhouse Glee.  

Feature Films


A major success for director Clint Eastwood, American Sniper is based on the life and autobiography of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history.  Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper plays Kyle, whose return to domestic life is nearly as daunting as the tense and deadly work of his military tours of duty in Iraq.  We have several copies of American Sniper in regular DVD and one in Blu-ray.


Based on the novel by, E.L.James, Fifty Shades of Grey is now available in regular DVD and Blu-ray.



Orange is apparently still the new black for the second season of the very popular Netflix series.  Learn more about what put Piper behind bars, not to mention the back stories of more the female inmates at the Litchfield Federal Prison.

After 121 episodes and a whopping 728 musical performances, the New Directions Glee Club and all the students and faculty at William McKinley High School have exited stage (or t.v. screen) left. Catch up with or relive the final season of Glee.


Comedian and actress Amy Schumer stars in this Comedy Central series, a mix of sketch comedy, stand-up and street interviews.  The general consensus is that the entertaining show really hits its stride in season two.  Very much one for adults, Inside Amy Schumer is the winner of a 2015 Peabody Award.  


Foreign Film

An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film, Leviathan has a setting in contemporary Russia, but undertones and storylines which some see as biblical.  Things are not going well for Kolya.  As a corrupt mayor eyes his property, life promises to get more difficult.  He calls upon an old army buddy and lawyer to help him, but with friends like Kolya's....A bracing satire of contemporary Russia set in the rugged and beautiful landscape along the Barents Sea.

No, Girlhood is not a French, female remake of Richard Linklater's Boyhood.  Instead, Girlhood is thoughtful a coming-of-age story focusing on Marieme, fleeing a difficult home life in the outer suburbs of Paris to join a group of free-spirited girls.   



Can those perpetual adversaries -  cowboys and ranchers - unite to save a town against a gang of outlaws?  Such is the conflict in Andre de Toth's stylish western Day of the Outlaw, which stars Robert Ryan and Burl Ives.

Also new:  Alred Hitchcock's last British film, JAMAICA INN.



The Case Against 8 offers a behind-the-scenes look inside the historic case to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flick Picks 5/15/2015: Still Alice, Mr. Turner, Selma

A one-week hiatus for Flick Picks means we have lots of new DVDs to consider .

Feature Films


Based on Lisa Genova's best-selling novel, Still Alice tells the story of 50-year-old linguistics professor Alice Howland, facing painful irony of  a life without memory and language after a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's.  The always excellent Julianne Moore won the Best Actress Oscar at the 2015 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Alice.


Timothy Spall has won universal acclaim for his performance as the great English painter, J.M.W. Tuner in director Mike Leigh's masterful biopic that covers the last 25 years in the life of the painter, with all his human flaws and artistic brilliance.  We have both regular DVD copies and a Blu-ray edition of Mr. Turner.  


Director Ava DuVernay's Selma succeeds where it was most likely to fail:  creating a distinct screen persona for an indelible historical figure whom we have all seen repeatedly in news footage (or even live broadcast).  British actor David Oyelowo does the near impossible in bringing to life Martin Luther King.  The physical presence and cadence of speech are similar enough to evoke the great man, while Oyelowo avoids the trap of mere mimicry.  He's both MLK and a character in the film at hand.  Selma has a curiously British cast, with Tom Wilkinson playing President Lyndon Baines Johnson (well, okay) and Tim Roth cast as firebrand Alabama Governor George Wallace (huh?). Mainly, Selma succeeds in the smaller moments of its big story, showing the struggles behind the scenes in the civil rights movement and humanizing a towering figure in American history.

Also new...

 Jude Law plays a rogue submarine captain, searching for lost treasure in BLACK SEA.

Much more an audience favorite than critical darling, BLACK OR WHITE stars Kevin Costner as grandfather fighting for custody of a granddaughter in a drama that considers issues of both family and race.



Almost universally praised, Wolf Hall is actually a six-part adaption of two Hilary Mantel novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.  This British series focuses on the figure of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII and a major player in the English Reformation.

We have made many other additions to our new series DVDs in the past two week, including








In 1760's France, a beautiful young woman from a well-to-do family is shocked when her parents send her to a convent.  Only later does she realize that she's an illegitimate child and expected to atone for her mother's sin.  Will she take her vows?  Is the cloistered existence of an abbey any place for such a young woman?


We have plenty for documentary fans to enjoy with recent additions to our collection.  

Two early, entertaining, thought-provoking films from Academy Award-winner, Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line).  


With his provocative question, 'why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?' Raphael Lemkin changed the course of history. An extraordinary testament to one man's perseverance, this examines the life and legacy of the Polish-Jewish lawyer and linguist who coined the term genocide.


You might have seen the recent film, Woman in Gold, about Maria Altman's attempt to reclaim paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis.  Now you can see the real story about the 84-year-old Los Angeles woman's attempt to wrest the Gustav Klimt paintings from the Austrian government, including the iconic, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Flick Picks 5/1/2015: Paddington, Inherent Vice, Goodbye to Language

What do Paddington and French cinema auteur supreme Jean-Luc Godard have in common?  Well...virtually nothing.  But's it fun putting the two together, knowing how stridently the cantankerous Godard has tried to distance himself from such films for the past half century.  Paddington and Godard's latest, Goodbye to Language are among the new offerings on DVD and Blu-ray this week.

A note - Flick Picks will be on hiatus (or perhaps vacation) next week.  The next posting will occur on May 15, by which time there should be all kinds new video to discuss.

Feature Films


Don't let the cute little bear in the floppy red hat fool you.  Paddington has been a favorite with critics and audiences alike in this film rendering of the beloved character from children's literature.   Follow the furry Paddington and human friends around London for numerous adventures.  The very strong human contingent is led by Lord Crawley himself, Hugh Bonneville.

We have multiple copies of Paddington in both regular DVD and Blu-ray.


Speaking of auteurs, master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) meets the legendary Thomas Pynchon in this film version of the writer's novel, Inherent Vice.  As with The Master, Joaquin Phoenix stars, sporting some serious mutton chops as Larry "Doc" Sportello, sometime private detective, sometime dope enthusiast.  Some fans of Pynchon have expressed their approval at Anderson realizing the writer's rich and complex world so successfully, filming a story that most had considered unfilmmable.  The ever-reliable Josh Brolin is on hand as Doc's foil, Detective Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, providing just some of Inherent Vice's fragrant comic relief.   Martin Short is also memorable as the fairly deranged dentist, Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd.

Also new this week:  Mark Wahlberg stars in THE GAMBLER.

Foreign Film

Three varied, interesting French language films to choose from this week.


Some say that Jean-Luc Godards's latest is the sort of film for which 3D Blu-ray was invented.  Goodbye to Language is his first foray into 3D filming.  The content may be as cryptic as ever from Godard, but his restless vitality continues to play out at the age of 84.  The library has Goodbye to Language in a Blu-ray edition that includes both 3D and two dimensional versions.


Mommy is the fifth feature from French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, all of 26-years-old.  While that sort of precocity is really annoying to those of us who haven't accomplished much in the world, Dolan's work has won increasing acclaim.  Challenging though it may be, this "boisterous Oedipal comedy" received a 13-minute standing ovation at Cannes as was Canada's entry as Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards.  A widowed mother struggles to raise her troubled teenage son, until help arrives from a mysterious new neighbor.  


The great Jean-Pierre Melville is perhaps best known for a series of elegant, almost meditative gangster films (Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge) from the 1960's and 70's.  However, his first feature is quite distinct from that later work.  Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) is based on a clandestinely-published novel from 1942.  The story concerns the relationship between a Frenchman and his niece with a German Lieutenant living with them during the German occupation of France during World War II.  

Melville, who served in the French resistance, made two other films that dealt directly or tangentially with the French struggle during the war, both of which are in the library collection:  Leon Morin, prete (Leon Morin, Priest) and the classic L'Armee des ombres (Army of Shadows).

Documentary Film and Performing Arts


Full of amazing footage and nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2015 Academy Awards, Last Days in Vietnam recounts the sad and chaotic final days in Saigon as American soldiers and diplomats struggle with the White House order to evacuate only American personnel.  Directed with assurance by Rory Kennedy (youngest child of Robert).

Last Days in Vietnam is currently available for checkout or reserve, but feel free to join us for a screening in the library on May 18, part of our monthly Monday Night at the Movies series.


Very much a story for our time, Bag It follows Jeb Berrier, "an average American guy - admittedly not a tree hugger," as tries to stop using plastic bags and understand our relationship with plastic the world over.  

Also new this week:  New DVD editions of the the operas, Wozzeck, Le Nozze di Figaro and La Cenerentola


Three new series releases on DVD this week with which you can wile away the hours:
Suits, Season  4New Tricks, Season 11Royal Pains, Season 6


Friday, April 24, 2015

Flick Picks 4/24/2015: Taken 3, The Immigrant, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

This week we have the immigrant experience in a a beautifully-evoked New York of the 1920's.  A sleek crime and corruption story set in the same corroding metropolis of the early 80's.  And won't those bad guys ever learn?  Stop messing with Liam Neeson's loved ones!  One last time - if you abduct or harm anyone in the man's family...he will find you, he will kill you.  I hope we don't have to go over this again.    


Another showcase for the considerable talents of Marion Cotillard,  The Immigrant is a drama that delves into the dark side of the immigrant experience.  Cotillard plays Ewa, a Polish immigrant who leaves Ellis Island without her quarantined sister and in the dubious care of Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who has definite plans for the vulnerable woman.  Is there hope in the form of Bruno's cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner), a dashing illusionist?  Beyond the acting of Cotillard and others, The Immigrant is a film of considerable style in its depiction of time and place, from Ellis Island to a teeming Lower East Side of Manhattan.


Sort of the Charles Bronson of his generation, Liam Neeson is back as former covert operative Bryan Mills, in the final film of the "Taken Trilogy."  This time, the tenacious Mills pursues the bad guys while being chased by the L.A.P.D. himself, as he tracks down the killer of his ex-wife.


If the message was not delivered (or received) clearly enough with his performance in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, it now seems quite obvious -  Oscar Isaac is a star.  He carries, A Most Violent Year, the compelling story of a businessman trying to build an empire while attempting to fend off law enforcement, ruthless competitors and the mob.  Jessica Chastain, an old friend and buddy from Julliard, plays Isaaac's wife, something of a Brooklyn-bred Lady Macbeth.


Also  new:  Jennifer Anniston received much praise (and a Golden Globe nomination) for her role as an accident survivor in Cake.

Foreign Film


This past year has proven that the vampire film is alive and well.  Or undead and well, as the case may be.  There was Jim Jarmusch's smart and stylish, Only Lovers Left Alive.  Still in the theaters (and coming to our collection in the months ahead) is the droll vampire mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows.  Perhaps most impressive of all is Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an assured blend of style and heart in the story of a solitary young vampire, "The Girl," who roams the lonely streets of Bad City by night (of course).  Photographed like a classic Hollywood black and white and bearing a cool, contemporary sensibility and soundtrack, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was one of 2014's most original films.



These days, the idea of one person serving as writer AND director of a film is hardly unusual.  Such was not the case when the great Preston Sturges began his career in Hollywood.  Sturges is considered the first person to establish himself as a screenwriter and then make the transition to directing those lively scripts.  Our new Criterion Collection edition of The Palm Beach Story is a screwball classic from Sturges' richest period in Hollwood, a very unconventional love story starring Joel McCrea and Claudette Cobert that might leave you seeing double....

The library also has a few other Sturges classics:  Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve and Unfaithfully Yours.  

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Sullivan's Travels.  
Barbara Stanwyck and a reluctant Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve.

Also new this week, a late career (and rare English language) film from French master Jean Renoir (Rules of the Game, The Grand Illusion, etc).  Filmed in India, The River is based on a story by Rumer Godden.  Martin Scorcese, who's seen a few films in his time, lists The River among his dozen all-time favorites.



Anita Diamant's enormously successful novel, The Red Tent, gets the miniseries treatment in a production that includes Debra Winger and Minnie Driver.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Flick Picks 4/17/2015: Foyles War Set 8, Big Eyes, The Babadook

Oh, quite a grab bag this week.  In feature films, we have the slightly weird, the dark and the downright scary.  But in a world gone slightly mad, fear not.  Detective Chief Superintendant Christopher Foyle is back on the case....

New Series


There is a bit of wall in a staff area of the library where librarians for a time posted pictures of their favorite actors.  One by one, the handsome men were replaced by beloved dogs, past and present.  Eventually, only one man's picture remained among the pooches.  That actor?  Michael Kitchen.  Interpret this as you will, but it does seem to speak to the appeal of the distinguished Mr. Kitchen, who has played the role of Foyle since the series' inception in 2002.  The detective is back once more to solve crimes in the years immediately after World War II in England.  Apparently this truly is it for Foyle's War (much as the series has been cancelled and revived in the past), so place a hold on Foyle's War Set 8 today and savor those final episodes!


When a five-year-old boy disappears while his family is on vacation in the South of France, a nearly decade-long search for him begins.  The excellent James Nesbitt (the series Cold Feet, Murphy's Law; the film Bloody Sunday) heads the cast as the father of the missing boy.

Feature Films


Big Eyes is a a more personal film for director Tim Burton, as with his 1994  film about another cult artist, Ed Wood.  Big Eyes stars the versatile Amy Adams as Margaret Keane, long overshadowed by her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), who claimed that he produced all those paintings of saucer-eyed women, children and animals.


The only thing scary about most so-called horror films of the last few decades has been their chainsaw attacks on intelligence, their dismemberment of imagination.  But don't get too comfortable on your comes The Babadook.  Written and directed by Australian Jennifer Kent, the bogeyman-type story of The Babadook eschews cheap thrills for the sort of old-fashioned horror that is likely to get under your skin and stay there a while.  The Babadook has met with almost universal praise from critics and audiences alike, even if they have lost a few hours sleep.  Or take the word of director William Friedkin (The Exorcist), "I've never seen a more terrifying film. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me."  Enjoy! 

Also new...

An audience favorite, BESIDE STILL WATERS, has young friends gathering for one last time to relive their glory days at summer house soon to be sold.  Not for the faint of sensibility, David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS is a particularly barbed addition to the canon of film and literature that skewers Hollywood and the worst of California culture.  


Arriving in a spiffy new Criterion Collection edition, Odd Man Out is the first in an excellent trio of films directed by Englishman Carol Reed in the late 1940's.  In Odd Man Out, James Mason is an IRA-type leader on the run from the law.  The film takes place in one tense evening, as the injured Mason takes refuge in shadowy haunts around Belfast,while the woman he loves desperately searches for him. 

The library also has the two films directed by Carol Reed subsequent to Odd Man Out, both based on stories by Graham Greene.  The Fallen Idol is seen through the perspective of a diplomat's son in London who idolizes his father's butler.  In The Third Man, Joseph Cotton is an American writer in post-war Vienna, trying to track down his slippery pal, Harry Lime (Orson Welles, dominating the film from the shadows).  Cue that crazy zither music and enjoy this one again.      


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Flick Picks 4/10/2015: Grantchester, The Red Road, Black Sails

Quite a mixed bag this week.  No big feature film releases, but a variety of new series, documentaries and fun classic released on DVD.


If you didn't flip channels or turn off the t.v. after the recent fifth season of Downton Abbey, you might have seen another British production, Grantchester.  Based on the The Grantchester Mysteries, by James Runcie, Grantchester is a detective drama set in the eponymous English village during the 1950's.  Local vicar Sidney Chambers becomes a sleuth in his spare time, somewhat to the chagrin of Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, who grudgingly helps the young vicar.

Also new in series...

  The first season of both The Red Road and Black Sails.  The Red Road has police officer Harold Jensen battling trouble on both the home and crime fronts, while Black Sails transpires more fancifully among pirates on New Providence Island, serving as a kind of prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  

New Documentaries


Herb and Dorothy Vogel were civil servants (he a postal worker, she a librarian) who amassed an amazing collection of modern art, filling their small New York apartment to bursting.  Eventually, the extraordinary collection collection was donated to the National Gallery.  But the art-collecting couple were not done.  Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50 picks up their story as the pair launch an organization that eventually donated 2,500 works to 50 institutions in all 50 states.  

The library also has the documentary that started it all, the award-winning Herb & Dorothy.  


We all know the story in its broad and tragic outline.  Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was reported to be, ultimately convicted as a serial child molester.  The scandal at Penn State expanded, bringing down the university's president and its beloved head football coach, Joe Paterno.  Writer and director Amir Bar-Lev was there from the time the story broke.  He chronicles not only the major events, but the reaction of a community distraught at the downfall of its football program which it had followed with something approaching religious devotion.  


If you need something bit more inspiring, two other recent documentaries should do the trick.  The accomplished and very busy Alex Gibney (Enron:  The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, and a series of recent documentaries for HBO) gives us Finding Fela, about the extremely influential Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.  "Algorithms," meanwhile, tells the story of young chess players in India who dream of becoming grandmasters, undeterred by their lack of sight.



During his time in America, Robert Siodmak was an accomplished director of film noir and horror.  The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is more a case of the former.  George Sanders (perhaps best remembered as the mordant drama critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve) stars as a bachelor living with his two sisters, all members of a formerly elite family reduced to more modest circumstances by The Great Depression.  But into Harry's dreary life comes desirable New Yorker Deborah Brown.  Will Harry marry Deborah and escape his sad bachelor's life at last?  Will manipulative sister Lettie allow such a thing?  Will the meek Harry finally snap?  There's a pretty good twist at the end of The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, so much so that the film's makers found it necessary to offer the following warning prior to the closing credits:  "In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending."  Find out for yourself, but please don't be a blabbermouth!

In addition to The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, the library has good examples of both Robert Siodmak's work in film noir and horror.  The latter is represented by The Spiral Staircase (1946). A serial killer is on the loose in early 20th century New England. Who is the killer?  And will his next victim be the sweet girl working for the bedridden Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore)?  Not for the last time in film history, a young woman is admonished, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!  As for Siodmak's considerable body of work in noir, we have a good example in The Killers (also 1946).  Based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway, The Killers has a young Burt Lancaster playing a character known as "The Swede," hiding out in a small town, waiting for two hit men and his past to catch up with him.  The femme fatale who got him into trouble in the first place.  None other than Ava Gardner.