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.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Flick Picks 4/3/2015: The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Wild

Some major DVD releases this week, highlighted by three very different stories.  


Based on the life and World War II work of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game is the story of the English contribution to the breaking of the seemingly unbreakable Nazi Enigma Code.  This period drama is highlighted by the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, a hero of the English war effort who was unjustly persecuted in the decade following his life-saving work.  We have several copies of the regular DVD version of the film, as well as one on Blu-ray.     

The Imitation Game is hardly the first film or series that deals with the English attempt to break the Enigma Code and its aftermath.  Another interesting take on the story was provided by the 2013 British series, The Bletchley Circle.  The Bletchley Circle focuses on a group of female code breakers relegated to more traditional female roles after the war, who reunite to catch a serial killer in the 1950's.  The Bletchley Circle is available in our series collection.


Director Christopher Nolan does not lack for ambition.  After his sprawling Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), not to mention the mind-bending Inception, Nolan has gone, well...interstellar with his latest sci-fi extravaganza.  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine star in the film about a crew of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity.  Interstellar is available in regular DVD and Blu-ray


Based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild Stars Reese Witherspoon as woman who decides to hike entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail to turn her life around after divorce, the death of her mother and years of self-destructive behavior. 

Also new this week:  Hugh Grant heads an appealing cast, starring as a struggling screenwriter in The Rewrite. 


 The ever-delightful Julis Louis-Dreyfus stars in the third season of  Veep,  

Nerd alert!  Season one of the HBO series Silicon Valley has arrived.  


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Flick Picks 3/27/2015: Into The Woods, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Low Down, Ride The Pink Horse

But a few new releases this week, each of the highlighted films very much in the realm of the fantastic...


Based upon Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical, Into The Woods is brought vividly to the screen with a strong cast, headed by the great Meryl Streep.  Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp also feature in the story which is based upon several fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, including "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," and "Rapunzel.  Into The Woods is available in regular DVD and Blu-ray editions.


"Battle of the Five Armies" arrives as the last in the trilogy of films by Peter Jackson, adapting J.R.R. Tolkein's beloved The Hobbit.  It's once more unto the breach for Bilbo, Thorin, the Company of Dwarves and all those familiar characters, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.  "Battle of the Five Armies" is also available in regular DVD and Blu-ray

Not in the mood for all that fantasy?   You can keep things a bit more real with some recent additions to our feature and classic films.  

LOW DOWN      

While Whiplash was getting all the attention last fall, another film about a jazz musician saw an unfairly limited release.  Low Down is based on the memoir of Amy-Jo Albany, daughter of jazz pianist Joe Albany. Albany's career spanned from early work with Charlie Parker to recordings and performance into the late 1980's.  In between, Albany suffered and inflicted upon himself the ups and downs so associated with jazz musicians.  Low Down beautifully evokes a twilight, seedy Los Angeles of the 1970's and features yet another great performance from John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, Martha Marcy Mae Marlene), who taught himself to play piano to perform the Albany solos seen in the film.


An unusual and little-seen film noir from 1947 gets the Criterion Collection treatment.  Ride the Pink Horse is one of a few films directed by Robert Montgomery, better known as an actor. Montgomery stars as Gagin, a kind of wise guy arriving in a New Mexico border town at fiesta time to exact revenge on the mobster who killed his best friend.  Featuring a typically sharp script from Ben Hecht, Ride The Pink Horse, like much classic noir, refracts post World War II malaise into a story equal parts dark and entertaining.    

Coming soon:  Wild, Interstellar, Foyles War Set 8


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Flick Picks 3/20/2015: Theory of Everything, Top Five, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

As if inspired by the thawing weather and impending spring (one uses these words very carefully in Chicago...), the flow of new DVD releases has increased this week.  There should be something for everyone.


Eddie Redmayne recently picked up a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.  Based on the book, Travelling to Infinity:  my life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking, The Theory of Everything chronicles the meeting of Stephen and Jane while students at Cambridge, his diagnosis of motor neuron disease and eventual success in physics.

124 Minutes - Rated PG13

Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in Top Five, about a comic forced to reconsider his past after an interview with a journalist.  Romance, race, business, politics - Top Five hits upon it all.  Like the best of Chris Rock's comedy, the film is brash, insightful and, of course, very funny.  

101 Minutes - Rated R

Another success for Japan's revered Studio Ghibli, The Tale of Pricess Kaguya was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.  Based on one of Japan's most beloved folktales, "Princess Kaguya" is the story of a tiny girl found in a stalk of bamboo by a cutter and his wife who rapidly grows into an amazing young woman.

137 Minutes - Rated PG

If you enjoy The Tale of Princess Kaguya, try these other Studio Ghibli animated classics available at the Glencoe Library.

Howl's Moving Castle                                      

Also new this week...

A coming-of-age story from Brazil, The Way He Looks, centers on a blind young man whose life changes with the arrival of a new boy at his school.      
96 Minutes; Not rated.

What do you do after playing the Caped Crusader through three blockbuster films?  If you're Christian Bale, you play Moses in Ridley Scott's,  Exodus:  Gods and Kings.  
150 minutes; Rated PG-13

And penguins...who doesn't like penguins?  The busy Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich are among the actors lending their vocal stylings to The Penguins of Madagascar.
92 minutes; Rated PG

COMING SOON:  Into The Woods, Foyles War, Set 8


Friday, March 13, 2015

Flick Picks 3/13/2015: Hunger Games Mockingjay, Part 1, Rosewater

Fantasy or reality?  Take your pick.  Both arrive in the form of fictional feature films this week.  One story is based on real events. The other?  Not so much....


Yes, the intrepid and wily Katniss Everdeen is back in this first film based on the final book of Suzanne Collins' enormously successful series.  Jennifer Lawrence again plays the story's heroine, assuming the role of "Mockingjay," the symbol of rebellion to the oppressed citizens of Panem, fighting that no good president, Coriolanus Snow.    


Based on the memoir, Then They Came For Me, by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, Rosewater is the first foray into film writing and direction by the Daily Show's John Stewart.  Bahari appeared on the Daily Show, an interview which Iranian authorities used as a pretense to arrest and detain the Iranian-Canadian journalist was for 118 days in 2009, often brutally interrogating him.  The talented Gail Garcia Bernal plays Bahari 


Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, who in the 1990's alleged in a series of articles that the CIA's was involved in importing cocaine in the United States to support Contra rebels in Nicaragua.  Jeremy Renner heads a strong cast as Webb, whose efforts are not appreciated by the C.I.A.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this largely nocturnal L.A. thriller about a thief who finds a dubious niche, providing footage of crime and accidents for local news.  Well-reviewed, Nightcrawler was nominated for best original screenplay at the 2015 Academy Awards.  



Friday, March 6, 2015

Flick Picks 3/6/2015: Foxcatcher, Outlander

A very quiet week for new releases, with Foxcatcher and the first season of the series Outlander.  If you're like me, this is a time to pare down that tower of videos awaiting you on the DVD player (in your Netflix queue, on Hulu...).  You might also want to catch up on some fine, recently-released films from 2014 that can be found among our new DVDs.


One of the better films of 2014, Foxcatcher is based on true events.  John Eleuthere du Pont, he of the very elite family, convinced Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz to join his Foxcatcher wrestling team in the late 1980's.  Eventually, the relationship between patron and athletes went very bad.  Nearly unrecognizable behind a lot of makeup and a prosthetic nose, Steve Carrel's Oscar-nominated performance was one of the year's best, playing the disturbed scion of the du Pont family.  Nearly as good, Channing Tatum does what might be the best work of his career as the younger Schultz brother with a very big chip on his shoulder.  Foxcatcter is a chilling, arresting story that's full of substance.  Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) directs.

Have you seen Pride?  Ida?    

If Foxcatcher leaves your faith in humanity in need of a bolster, you might want to check out Pride.  Based on much more encouraging true events, Pride dramatizes the unlikely alliance of striking Welsh coal miners and gay rights activists from London in Margaret Thatcher's Britain of the 1980's.  A very appealing cast includes Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Paddy Considine.  If you're looking for a a feel-good film, look no farther.

A deserving winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, Ida is another story of seeming opposites united.  In the case of Ida, a young novitiate nun seeks out her very wordly aunt in 1950's Poland, to experience life outside the convent walls and determine what happened to the rest of their family during World War II.  Beautifully shot in black and white, Ida is one of the most memorable films of 2014.  

Coming soon:  Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1, The Theory of Everything, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.


Based on the fictional series by the fantasy favorite, Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is the fanciful tale of World War II nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall transported back in time to 1743 Scotland.  Already an audience favorite, Outlander promises quality escapism from the persistent winter.