Many of us were saddened to hear of Nora Ephron’s death. From movies with such unforgettable lines as “I’ll have what she’s having” (When Harry Met Sally) to her best-selling books, Nora Ephron was a funny, insightful writer who will be greatly missed. Below are some of her many works available in our collection.
W.E. is a splendid film that is part biopic and part soap opera. The tandem story lines revolve around the true drama of Edward VIII of England and his scandalous affair with twice divorced American, Wallis Simpson, and the fictional account of Wally Winthrop (named after Mrs. Simpson) a well-to-do socialite trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. The two themes merge as Wally, who is obsessed with all things pertaining to the Duke and Duchess, is drawn to an auction at Sotheby’s where the sumptuous artifacts of the Windsor estate are on display. She fingers the elegantly monogrammed linens, eyes the sparkling dinnerware and admires the dazzling jewelry. She is so taken with their love story, and consequently with anything that belonged to them, because she desperately seeks to know what it must be like to be loved so passionately. Because she is so lonely and vulnerable it’s no surprise that Wally (Abbie Cornish) opens herself to the flirtations of a Sotheby’s security guard. We can all guess where that is going.
But the tale of Wally and her paramour (Oscar Isaac) pales in comparison to the compelling romance of Edward and Wallis. It is said Edward was not only dominated by Wallis, but was possessed by her. So enthralled was he with Mrs. Simpson that he renounced the throne, and all that went with it, in favor of “the woman I love.”
W. E. gives us a sweeping view of the privileged lives of Wallis and Edward. The costumes, the sets, the venues of England in the 1930s, and the attention to detail are so delicious that we’re embraced by a lifestyle that is at once stylish and chic. It’s a world where no hair is ever out of place, and one wouldn’t think of reaching for the inappropriate utensil at a dinner party. Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) is luminous in her pale skin and rouged lips, set off by her dark tresses. But we see her as the French might see her, as a jolie laide*, because it is her charisma, and not her beauty that captures the heart of the would-be king.
History views the affair with a jaundiced eye, since Edward lost everything by abdicating the throne, and making the unpopular choice to marry a foreigner. In a rare turnabout this film raises the question of what Wallis was denied because of her choice to accept his proposal. In a letter, she tells us that she lost her privacy, her reputation and her esteem because she was so reviled once she became the Duchess.
If you were a fan of The King’s Speech, the Weinstein brothers are hoping you’ll also be captivated by W. (Wallis) E. (Edward). This film has a similar ambiance, a must for historical romance enthusiasts and those who are enamored with the royal family.
I wish I could recall the film that really got me hooked on documentaries. It might have been American Harmony, which I saw at a film festival in 2009. (It’s an amazingly interesting film about teams that compete in barbershop quartet competitions! I have included the trailer below.) Documentaries may be slower-paced, but I find the fascinating personal histories and the loving craft of the documentary makers (sometimes the “making of” feature is as good as the film itself) to be an irresistible combination. Here are a few that I have really enjoyed over the past year:
Being Elmo – A charming look at the man behind the famous Muppet.
Leonard Cohen: Bird on Wire – My introduction to the charismatic poet and singer (and not to be confused with the documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man which is still on my “to see” list). This film is based on footage taken while Cohen toured Europe in 1972.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil – I don’t know anyone who has taken me up on my frequent recommendations of this movie, but I stand by it! Sure, it’s about two guys chasing success as a heavy metal band way into middle age, but the heart of the film is their enduring friendship and belief in following your dream.
Louder Than A Bomb – I think this is my “new favorite” documentary! It follows several different high school students/schools from Chicago as they prepare and compete in a poetry slam. The creativity of these young artists blew me away.
Tired of the usual run-of-the-mill movies with car chases and action figures and digitally-enhanced special effects? If so, you might enjoy movies from Spiritual Cinema Circle, which the Library subscribes to. Every month we receive a compilation of four movies, which include one full-length film, as well as “shorts” and documentaries, many of which are by independent filmmakers. Topics explore spirituality, morality, the power of the mind and other enriching themes. Each group of films comes with “reflection questions,” to help you get the most from your viewing. So to find some movies with “heart and soul,” check out Spiritual Cinema Circle. These movies can be found in 204 SPI, along with books on spirituality, and are not with movie DVDs.
The film Hanna is a typical coming of age story. When it opens in a tundra setting, the protagonist Hanna is doing what all 16 year old girls like to do on the weekend: hunting a wild reindeer. After she has successfully killed her target, a man sneaks up on her and the two engage in a brief but tense fight. It’s apparent that neither are fighting to hurt the other, and it turns out the man is her father, and that this is just another Saturday morning for the two. It is revealed that Hanna and her father have been living on their own, completely disconnected from civilization as we know it and her father has brought her up to be a deadly assassin and a walking encyclopedia. She may not have a driver’s license like most girls want at her age, but she can snap your neck in less than three seconds flat.
Hanna is a breath of fresh air into the stale genre that is suspense thriller. During the very few and surprisingly brief action scenes, the camera rarely cuts away (a cheap trick that way too many action blockbusters are guilty of these days). What’s particularly engaging about this thriller is that director Joe Wright is more interested in the development of Hanna’s character than he is in staging those elaborate action sequences, and it makes for a very rewarding hybrid of traditional coming of age story and international espionage thriller, all filtered through a fairy tale lens. It’s a testament to Joe Wright’s talent that the film comes off as anything but a mess, despite all this mixing and matching.
Saoirse Ronan (I don’t know how to pronounce it either) gives a very nuanced performance in Hanna, as a teenage girl by loyalty to her father and the desire to grow up independently from him. The film is at its best when it follows Hanna’s travels with a lovable family of tourists and explores how far removed she really is from society. Hanna is a grade A anti-thriller that excels when it’s pulling its punches instead of throwing them.
It’s impossible to view this film without drawing parallels between Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Emilio Estevez’ The Way. Both unfold as a journey to a holy shrine undertaken by diverse pilgrims who come to reveal themselves to each other, and to themselves, as they are tested by the rigors of the landscape and the physical hardships of the odyssey.
Martin Sheen embraces the role of Tom, who travels to France to collect the remains of his son Dan (played by Emilio Estevez, his son in real life) who has died accidentally during his pilgrimage on the 800KM Camino de Santiago. Tom is a staid ophthalmologist who has lived a conservative lifestyle, while Dan has sought his interpretation of a more meaningful existence by testing boundaries and pushing the envelope. Neither fully accepts or understands the raison d’etre of the other in a classic father/son standoff.
In an effort to assuage his grief and grasp the motivation behind Dan’s pilgrimage, Tom determines to trace the journey in his son’s footsteps, leaving some of Dan’s ashes at various way stations along the Camino as a way of honoring his memory and accomplishing for Dan what he is physically unable to complete for himself.
But, this being a pilgrimage, no one’s journey is a solitary one, so Tom is reluctantly thrown into the mix with follow travelers. There is Joost, the jovial Dutchman, who is seeking to regain his wife’s affection, Sarah, a prickly Canadian, who is trying to quit smoking and recover from an abusive marriage, and Jack, a hard-drinking Irishman with writer’s block, whose next big novel will be a thinly disguised rehash of the lives of his fellow pilgrims. There are as many reasons for making the pilgrimage as there are pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
Along the way, we are in turn amused by the interactions among four such diverse seekers, and moved by poignant self-revelations. This is all played out against the scenic backdrop of the breathtaking Pyrennes and the Basque country, mingled with the quaintness of small villages. Here, affable innkeepers gather the sojourners offering respite and relaxation before the journey begins anew the next day. Food and drink are plentiful, but accommodations are sparse and crowded, further breaking down the physical and emotional barriers that separate the seekers.
Glimpses of Dan in the faces of his fellow travelers reassure Tom that father and son are moving towards a reconciliation, and that the journey has become as much a spiritual trek as it has been a physical one. Dan reminds his father, “You don’t choose a life, you live it.” We sense that Tom has awakened a capacity for allowing, as much as he has clung to his rigid philosophy of choice.
View the official movie trailer for The Way and our catalog to check-out a copy today.
Here’s a fun video called “Facts About Projection,” made several years ago by a 35mm film projectionist in London. He wrote, “This is a short film about my job as a Projectionist. I am quite proud of this film, mostly because I’m so proud of my job–it seems like a fulfillment of my childhood romantic notions of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Not that long ago, 35mm film could be played in almost any movie theater in the world. Since 2008, the 35mm film projectors have largely been replaced with digital projectors, and the 35mm format is rapidly becoming obsolete. The basic operation of digital cinema projectors is straightforward and can be performed by a theater’s managerial staff.
In the future, traditional projectionists will only be found in theaters that continue to show print films from archival collections, and so, sadly, they are a dying breed.
One of literature’s oldest and most distinguished characters has received a major revamp, and with a surprisingly fresh outcome. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes, and he breathes new life into him with every quip. The concept is as simple as setting Sherlock Holmes’ adventures within a modern day setting, and seeing how it would translate. The answer is: surprisingly well. The first episode of the miniseries is a little heavy handed in its use of technology (one side character won’t stop texting throughout the entire scene). But it is ingenious in the way that the show uses its source material as a commentary on how some things never change. For instance in the original story, Dr. Watson was a returning Afghanistan war veteran who served as a surgeon in the British Army, and it’s the exact same situation in this version. This version simply expands on that archetype with modern day sensibilities because Dr. Watson (or “John” as he is more commonly referred to as) is possibly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a psychosomatic limp.
The miniseries is only three episodes long, devoting each episode to a single case. But it’s the quality that counts here, not quantity. There are some remarkable sequences sprinkled throughout the series that fully utilize modern day film-making, as in the pilot when Sherlock is observing a crime scene and the audience becomes privy to his mental process as words flood the screen highlighting exactly what he’s thinking without giving away the deductions. Without spoiling too much, the show has a master plan in mind that ties all three episodes together nicely and will leave the viewer satisfied as well as wanting more. The sense of continuity is wonderful and leads to a more polished series.
The first season (or “series” since it’s a British show) is available now on DVD (check our catalog), and I can not recommend it enough. The second season is coming to American airwaves at the beginning in May as part of the PBS Masterpiece Mysteries series, so now is the perfect time to start this fantastic miniseries. Sherlock takes a premise and cast of characters that was growing stale (mostly thanks to poor choices that recent adaptations have made – I’m looking at you Guy Ritchie), and updates it for the modern world while delivering a Sherlock Holmes adaptation that fans deserve. Whether you’re a diehard Holmes fan who will enjoy picking up on the references to the original stories, or if you’re not as familiar with this undisputed classic as you’d like to admit, Sherlock is a fantastic series that’s worthy on its own merit, source material notwithstanding.
In 1984, a company called The Criterion Collection was created with the aim of selling important classic and contemporary films that have been cleaned and restored and augmented with bonus features. Their first releases were Citizen Kane and King Kong. Their Citizen Kane was created from a master positive provided by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. King Kong was the debut of their scene-specific audio-commentary feature, so beloved by hard-core film buffs.
With its eighth release, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Criterion originated the letterbox format, which added black bars to the top and bottom of the 4:3 standard television set in order to preserve the original aspect ratio of the film.
As well as cleaning and restoring all films released on their label, Criterion works closely with filmmakers and scholars to ensure that each film is presented as its maker would want it seen.
From the 1990s onwards, the Criterion Collection has focused on releasing world cinema, cinema classics, and critically successful obscure movies, seeking out films that are “exemplary films of their kind.”
So if you are a film buff, you might want to check out the extensive selection (172 titles) of Criterion Collection movies that we offer here at the Library. Simply go to the SCPL catalog, and search on the term “Criterion Collection.” You might also wanted to check out the Criterion Collection Facebook page, which offers an entertaining and ever-changing assortment of film clips and interviews with notables in the film world.
“Morally you’re supposed to overcome your impulses, but there are times you don’t want to overcome them.” So says one of the characters in Roman Polanski’s newest film: Carnage. It’s a sentiment that only brings itself to light gradually throughout the film, until finally the characters are devoid of any moral sensibilities which is humorously amplified in this intensely claustrophobic film. The film is very condensed (both in running time and setting), since it takes place entirely in a cramped New York apartment and is told in real-time (meaning the film never jumps in time). The set-up is as follows: when two boys in grade school get into an altercation, the parents of the children get together to converse about the event in a civilized manner. Needless to say, nobody is acting civilized by the end of the film.
Carnage is a dark comedy for sure, seeing that all the laughs are at the expense of the characters’ discomfort and uncomfortable interplay, but the over-the-top performances (that are more akin to the stage than the screen) keep the film from veering into depressing territory. The film is funny because although the situation takes place in a state of heightened reality, it all comes from a place of truth. All parents have delusional perceptions of their children and it’s only natural for them to become irrational once somebody threatens those perceptions. The script doesn’t look down on these characters, it simply highlights the comedic absurdity of adults who believe they are above acting like children (which we’re all guilty of).
All four actors put in wonderful performances across the board as the two central couples: Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Cristoph Waltz). This film would be nothing without committed actors and thankfully all four are up to the task. John C. Reilly is terrific as Michael, a middle class door to door salesman who takes pride in his mediocrity and pessimism, and Jodie Foster’s Penelope is pitch-perfect as the passive-aggressive (later, just aggressive) wife that instigated the meeting. Kate Winslet and Cristoph Waltz (in another standout role since Inglorious Basterds) have a wonderful chemistry (or lackthereof) as an elitist couple that are really only there as a courtesy.
Making the most out of its tiny setting and small cast, Carnage is a wonderful little film that proves the power of writing and acting.