Staff DVD picks for June
There are a lot of keen film-watchers at Wellington City Libraries and there are also a lot of great films, docos and TV series lining our shelves. So here’s a selection of the best, recent and not-so-recent DVDs taken home and watched by librarians, compiled for your viewing pleasure.
Community. The complete first season.
Joel McHale leads the cast of the hilarious ensemble comedy ‘Community’, playing Jeff Winger, a shallow fast-talking lawyer, who is forced to return to the decidedly sub-par ‘Greendale Community College’ to get an Undergraduate degree after it is discovered he has faked his entire credentials. He creates a phony Spanish Study Group (of 2 people) for the sole purpose of scoring with one of his classmates, Britta (Gillian Jacobs). However she invites other members of his class along, a diverse group of ages & races including Annie, a former A-student & pill addict (Alison Brie, Mad Men); Troy, a dopey High School Football star (Donald Glover); Abed, a socially inept, pop-culture obsessed film student (Danny Pudi); Shirley, a middle aged Christian housewife (Yvette Nicole Brown); & Pierce (Chevy Chase), a senior former ‘Moist Towelette’ business magnate. The success of ‘Community’ is that none of the characters are particularly nice people. They all have various personality issues & the show never sets out to make them ‘better people’, but focuses instead on how they come to find a sense of belonging & community amongst themselves, while accepting each other for who they are. How it does this is via a somewhat ‘meta’ self-referential discourse on the nature of sitcom ‘families’, wacky skewering of social norms, the perils of their crazy Spanish teacher Senor Chang (Ken Jeong, The Hangover), rapid fire dialogue, and hilarious pastiches of other shows & genres. Definitely one of those rare shows when everything works perfectly, combining great writing, great acting & chemistry, that culminates in a Chicken fingered Godfather send up, and a paintball themed final episode that is really just one of the funniest things ever. Recommended to anyone who likes offbeat characters and a really good laugh. (Mark)
I killed my mother.
The title may put you off (it did me) but there are no murders or bloodsheds in this movie. It’s a semi-biographical drama centring on a complex relationship between the 16-year-old gay boy and his single mother. The debut of French Canadian director, Xavier Dolan, who plays the main character himself, wrote the script when he was 17, and 3 years later, made it into the movie without proper film-production training. This love-and-hate-relationship story tells mostly the ‘hate’ side and it’s like the war of words at times. The way Dolan depicts it is childishly honest but maturely sensitive, and he confidently orchestrates with his fine aesthetic sense. The world presented here is still very small, but this impressive debut and his follow up feature, ‘Heartbeats’ – in which his influence of Godard and Wong Kar-Wai is more evident – proves his gifted talent, and he can only expand it with movies to come. One to watch. (Shinji)
Grim, realistic, fact-based thriller sees Rachel Weisz play a small town American Police officer, who takes a job from a US contractor as a UN Peacekeeper in Bosnia to earn money so she can relocate towns to be with her daughter – who is in the custody of her ex-husband. Dropped into an unfamiliar world of seething ethnic tensions & second-class status for women her pragmatic attitude soon sees her promoted to being in charge of Gender Affairs. However given a bigger purview she discovers large scale organized sex trafficking is occurring – with local Police bribed, UN complicity in the trade, and even worse, UN participation in the actual trafficking itself. The movie follows her struggle against the bureaucracy and the indifference of her superiors to bring some of the perpetrators to some kind of justice, which is made even more difficult by the fact that all UN personnel have immunity. Weisz is excellent as a strong woman attempting to take on an insurmountable problem while being challenged and intimidated at every turn. Be warned it does include some pretty graphic scenes of traffickers abusing their victims. (Mark)
Murundak: songs of freedom.
There’s a movement, movement on the street. They are Australia’s finest Indigenous musicians who have come together to form ‘The Black Arm Band’ having their world premiere in Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival 2006. This documentary released in 2011, follows them on that road trip to enlighten and open the hearts and minds of Australia. Murundak is a story without an end, an inspirational journey of culture, identity, connection and ultimately acceptance. It’s uplifting and profoundly affecting. Shellie Morris and Emma Donovan (Emma, currently performing with ‘Barefoot Divas’, NZ’s International Arts Festival 2012) are stand out emerging talents in with the more established indigenous musicians. That said, there are no ‘stars’; they each share the spotlight. From the Sydney Opera house to the Aboriginal communities, these songs of freedom, telling their stories how they want to tell them. Yes it’s a show of protest, but it’s not about pointing the finger or guilt tripping, it’s about taking a moment to listen to their stories, ‘this is why we sing the songs we sing. If you sing about a country, you need all the stories good and bad, there’s more than the jolly swagman camped by the billabong to sing about’. A one off show in London ‘sold out’ having to turn away 200 people created some anxiety among the band as to how they would be received, they need not have been, the ‘sold out’ sign would have been indication enough that they would be gratefully received, applauded and appreciated, and they were. The didgeridoo and the rain sticks get my attention every time, and to end my review/recommendation/opinion, I have borrowed a punch line from the opening song. “From little things, big things grow”. (Ethel)
Solid thriller sees two stories play out: one in the present, and the other taking place 30 years before. In modern times Helen Mirren is ex-Mossad agent Rachel Singer, an Israeli hero who was part of a team that helped capture a notorious Nazi war criminal in East Berlin in the 1960s, with a loving daughter who has written a book about her exploits. The other story flashes back to the Cold War Sixties and the plan to capture ‘The Surgeon of Birkenau’ (nastily played by Jesper Christensen) with a younger Rachel (Jessica Chastain) in her first field mission. When their escape route is blown, the 3 Mossad agents are forced to imprison the war criminal in their hideout as they await a new plan to escape from enemy territory. As the tension mounts between them, doubt sets in about the reality of the modern day story – what really happened? Mirren is excellent as always, and action man Sam Worthington is good as one of the agents in the atmospheric 60s storyline. A bit slow, and occasionally unbelievable. The characters actions & relationships in the 60s plot don’t always ring true, but it’s worth a watch nonetheless. (Mark)
Scott Walker: 30 century man.
I enjoy music docos and have recently found a new stash of them at the end of the CD aisles under ‘Music Biographies’. There are some goodies there, one of which is this excellent film about Scott Walker. The penny finally dropped for me as to why he is considered by so many to be a living legend. His journey from 60’s pop icon, as one of the Walker Brothers, to reclusive avant-garde sound sculptor is explored and held together with excerpts from Walker’s first agreed to interview in thirty years. This is a peek inside the creative mind and it is fascinating to glimpse, amongst other things, the humour that accompanies the creation of such intense songwriting – that is if you happen to agree with Walker that his creations can actually be called songs. (John)
Client 9: the rise & fall of Eliot Spitzer.
From director Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, Enron) comes this fascinating documentary that follows the rise & fall of American politician Eliot Spitzer. As New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer became known as the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ and in a period before the Financial crisis of 2008 he tackled the spread of white-collar crime, including the 2003 Mutual Fund scandal involving late trading practices of hedge funds, taking on Investment banks for inflating their stock price, & prosecuting AIG for fraudulent business practices & Securities Fraud. In 2006 when Spitzer was appointed Governor of New York, his future seemed certain and he was even tipped as being a future Presidential candidate, yet less than a year later his career was ruined after it was revealed he was a client of the Emperors Club VIP, a high priced prostitution ring. The documentary includes frank interviews with Spitzer, who shoulders the blame for his actions, but also raises serious questions as to how & why the investigation into Spitzer was initiated and by whom… A worthwhile addendum to Inside Job. (Mark)
Lemmy: 49% motherf**ker, 51% son of a bitch.
Not being a huge Motorhead fan, I nevertheless found this well crafted doco about Lemmy absorbing, entertaining and, dare I say it – inspiring! The guy is 65 and has been described as “the living embodiment of the rock and roll”. While living the life for over 40 years he hasn’t really missed a beat, has attained legendary status and is now an LA icon just from being Lemmy. The picture that emerges from the archival footage intercut with present day interviews are of a relatively humble and simple man who knows how he wants to live and has always done so. (John)
On the surface ‘The Guard’ seems like another buddy-cop-opposites action movie as strait-laced American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes to Galway in pursuit of an incoming drug shipment and meets Garda cop, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), but beneath the surface there is a lot more going on. A local murder and the sudden disappearance of his partner drag Boyle into Everett’s investigation, where it becomes apparent he far smarter than his crass demeanour lets on; and when a decidedly existential gang of English criminals hit town to intercept the drugs – and attempt to pressure Boyle into looking the other way – he realises it’s time to exercise his own kind of law & order. But can he rely on the by-the-book Everett? Gleeson is fantastic as a dodgy Irish cop who would much rather be spending time with his two favourite prostitutes than enforcing the law and Cheadle is, of course, always great. Factor in Boyle’s relationship with his terminally-ill mother, some philosophical criminals who take offence at incorrect Bribery etiquette, quirky locals & colourful language and what emerges is more of an oddball character study than a typical ‘cops & robbers’ story. Definitely recommended if you enjoyed In Bruges. (Mark)
Timberlake plays a young man ‘Will Sallas’ who lives and labours in one of Dayton’s less affluent ‘timezones’; a place where the city’s working poor are confined. It is not lack of money that confines them however but a lack of time. Will, his mother, and everyone he knows is youthful, mostly healthy, and slated to die within the next week or so. Displays on their arms tell them how much life is left to them. More life can only earned as -subsistence- wages, but life has to be spent too: in rent, food, electricity, clothing etc. And the prospects for Will Sallas’s longevity are not good…’Thoughtful’ and ‘compelling’ aren’t words often associated with Justin Timberlake, especially after The Love Guru, but ‘In Time’ is a credit to all those associated with it – including the male lead, who acts well. The film addresses economic trends in the world post the 2008 economic crash – trends that have increased the gap between the rich and the rest, especially in the west. After this, I’m tempted to go and see The Social Network, where Timberlake is reputedly even better, and which is also a thoughtful(ish) film. I’m not going to say Timberlake’s involvement with a film implies great quality, yet, but ‘In Time’ makes a start. (Rowan)
Wendy and Lucy.
Kelly Reichardt’s recent film Meek’s Cutoff has been described as her ‘mainstream breakthrough’, however, it is difficult to imagine fans of generic Hollywood films enjoying the glacial pace and lack of dialogue that marked that film. I was as fascinated by it as entertained and seeking Reichardt’s earlier works out of curiosity, was pleased to discover two simple and beautifully understated examples of American indie film making. ‘Wendy and Lucy’ stars (pre-Marilyn Monroe) Michelle Williams as a young traveller who loses her dog in a small country town – yep, that’s about it, while Old Joy stars Will Oldham as a rambler who takes his friend on a journey for a hot swim. Not a lot of plot there, but these films are very human, as delicate as a haiku and offer subtle comments on modern American life. (John)