Staff Picks July/August : Film & television on DVD
(This is the second part of our picks for July/August — and yes, we know, we do watch many many DVDs…)
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.
When you think cancer, you don’t tend to think comedy movie but ‘50/50’, which is based on the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, managers to navigate the subject with a deft mix of humour and drama. Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a clean living 27 year old with a steady job in Radio; however his life changes when he contracts a rare form of cancer on his spinal column. While Adam tries to make the best of the debilitations of chemotherapy & his 50/50 survival rate, his mother (Anjelica Huston) over-worries & smothers him, his best friend (Seth Rogan) uses it as a way to pick up women, his aloof girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds supporting him difficult, and his cancer therapist (Anna Kendrick) is only on her 3rd patient. A poignant mix of comedy, personal drama, & the nature of friendship, that never panders to sentimentality, with Gordon-Levitt excellent in the lead. Recommended. (Mark)
The killing. The complete series two.
More quality television from the Danes with the second season of the superior Crime series ‘The Killing’. After the events of the first season Detective Sarah Lund is exiled to checking passports on the Danish border, but when the ritualistic murder of a lawyer occurs near a Military Memorial her former boss Brix brings her back into the fold. Meanwhile the new inexperienced Justice Minister is charged by the PM with passing the new joint-party Terror package, which becomes more complicated as further murders occur, with terrorists as the suspects – all linked to an elite Danish Military Squad & a botched mission in Afghanistan. Once again there are multiple characters & plot strands at play, but thankfully this series is honed down to 10 episodes, so avoids a lot of the double-backs & red-herrings that weighed down the later episodes of the first season. (Mark)
Bill Cunningham New York.
New York gets a lot of bad press these days, representing to many the heart of the Western financial world. So it is good to watch a doco that looks at the city from the perspective of someone like Bill Cunningham, a fashion photographer in his eighties who since the ‘60s has photographed people on the street. Bill is an endearing character who still rides his pushbike everywhere, sleeps on the floor of his tiny ‘studio’ and has never done anything in his entire life for money. This is an inspiring film that allows us to witness someone who is driven by nothing but the love of what they do…..and there are some great clothes featured as well. (John)
A safecracker ends up shot & in hospital after a botched job. When his assailants try to finish him off a night shift nurse saves him just in time. However when the nurse returns home to his pregnant wife he is knocked unconscious & she is kidnapped. The kidnapper’s demand? He has to break the safecracker out of hospital & deliver him to a warehouse or his wife dies… But is the safecracker really the bad guy, or is something more sinister at play? Solid French thriller that takes the standard premise of an ordinary guy thrust into extreme circumstances and works it to the max, with plenty of twists, & stylish action. (Mark)
Treme. The complete second season.
Season Two of this standout HBO series, set in post Katrina New Orleans, maintains the high standards set in Season One. The music, if anything, is even better, the plot slowly but surely grows in complexity and the characters are gradually fleshed out. Part of the appeal of this series is the pace that it moves at – the relaxed way the story unfolds suits the culture of the American Deep South perfectly. The DVD extras feature discussions with the series’ creators which serve to add more context for keen viewers. (John)
Classic Walter Hill 1978 action movie, sees a blank Ryan O’Neal play ‘The Driver’ an ace getaway man, who is pursued by ‘The Detective’ (Bruce Dern). His contact for jobs is ‘The Connection’ & his newly acquired alibi for his latest job is ‘The Player’ (Isabelle Adjani). Hill’s screenplay is a study in minimalism. None of the characters have names, & O’Neal only has around 300 lines in the entire movie. Instead it’s all about the driving, O’Neal’s blank face is a study in calm as he shifts through one precision move after another, never losing his cool in any situation. Bruce Dern is also great as the dodgy cop prepared to go to any length to catch The Driver. A clear influence on later directors such as Michael Mann & Tarantino, not to mention certain Playstation games, as well as being the key influence on the James Sallis novel Drive (with the lead character a stuntman/Getaway driver also just known as ‘Driver’) & thus the Ryan Gosling movie adapted from the novel. Best scene: When a group of criminals question his skill The Driver uses a series of concrete pillars in a parking garage to destroy a car piece by piece… (Mark)
Let’s get lost: starring Chet Baker.
Classic documentary on Jazz trumpet player Baker, one of the most iconic figures in Jazz. Director/photographer Bruce Weber likes broken & damaged things, and he paints Baker as a washed up junkie with a sycophantic entourage, focusing on his raspy singing, which had seen much better days. Baker, for his part, is happy to take the money, & be whatever Weber wants him to be. What follows is a sepia toned sift through Baker’s often sordid past, beginning in the 50’s West Coast scene with his moody James Dean looks & melodic trumpet playing eventually giving way to years of heroin addiction & nomadic travelling around Europe. Beautifully shot, with plenty of archival shots & lots of frank interviews with Bakers estranged family & others, who paint him in a pretty unflattering light. While it never addresses the central dichotomy at the heart of Baker’s myth it’s still a fascinating watch. Most of the techniques Weber used in the film would go on to become staples of the New York advertising world; months after filming Baker would debunk his portrayal in the doco, go on methadone to tour Japan, & record the ‘Live in Tokyo’ album – one of the best jazz live albums ever made, full of amazingly fluid playing & phrasing – before drugs would finally catch up with him again a year later. (Mark)
The incredible human journey.
In this BBC documentary, the lovely and very likeable anthropologist, Dr Alice Roberts, one of the new breed of young funky scientists, travels the globe to discover the incredible story of how humans left Africa to colonise the world. She spins a fascinating and engrossing story, approaching her adventure like a detective searching for vital clues, as the viewer follows her retracing the steps of our distant ancestors. DNA evidence and climate change software are used to give the viewer access to a startling perspective of an ever changing environment and a tenacious and highly adaptive species. An astonishing five part series that firmly establishes the common origins of humankind and, whether her findings are the whole story or not, this is a definite must see for those whose curiosity extends beyond the day to day. (John)
21 Jump Street.
Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum play opposites in High-School who become friends at Police Academy to help each other pass their training. But when their first bust goes awry they are re-assigned to go back undercover at High School as brothers, to infiltrate the dealers of a potent new drug, and catch the supplier. However when Channing forgets which brother he is supposed to be, their roles get reversed – with the beefy Channing placed in Chemistry class with the nerds & the geeky Hill on the Track team & the Drama club with the cool kids. Remakes of 80’s TV shows don’t tend to fare too well (‘The Dukes of Hazard’, ‘The A-Team’) but the 21 Jump Street remake is somewhat different in that it knows it’s a remake – with a speech by their foul mouthed new boss (Ice Cube) bemoaning the lack of creativity of his Police superiors by ‘reactivating an 80’s undercover unit’. It’s all very Meta, as ‘Jump Street’ takes the p**s out of action movies, buddy-cop movies, high-school movies, movies where people learn ‘valuable lessons’ about life & friendship, and just about everything else it can. Both Hill & particularly Channing are hilarious & sure it’s ridiculous, silly, low-brow & foul-mouthed, but it’s very funny. Also has a great cameo from Johnny Depp. (Mark)
After a lengthy delay due to distribution issues the 9th season of Spooks finally gets released locally. One of those shows that always seems to reinvent the wheel – in that the writers always seem to come up with new & exciting stories when you think all the possible ‘threats to British soil’ plots had been played out. This season sees plenty of solid individual stories, with some new characters introduced (Sophia Myles as Beth, gets a good feature episode as her previous work as a mercenary threatens her new role in MI5); and while the overarching plot that sees Lucas North’s (Richard Armitage) mysterious past surface suffered from some ropey plotting it was still an interesting, if different, take on the fate ‘Spooks’ tends to deal out to its main characters. (Mark)
For those of us who were disappointed with the lack of car chase scenes in Drive, this movie makes up for it in spades. Ryan Reynolds, minus his Green Lantern outfit, manages to fight his way out of some pretty hairy situations, as he tries to keep Denzel Washington’s character from getting away. Denzel plays Tobin Frost, ex CIA and now traitor, who finds himself in a life threatening situation which can only be avoided by his surrendering to the US Embassy. He is moved to a safe house where Matt Weston (Reynolds) has been sitting around for the past year feeling very neglected. When a group of mercenaries attack the safe house and kill the team interrogating Frost, he is forced to go on the run to keep them both alive. Frost is a master manipulator and tries to get into Weston’s head, shaking his morality and idealism in his job. Together they have to fight to stay alive until they expose the person who is trying to kill them. (Raewyn)
Highly entertaining adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s pulpy novel – a stand alone effort from his usual ‘Harry Hole’ Norwegian crime thrillers. Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a top man in the field of Recruitment for high level business positions, with a beautiful house, a statuesque blonde wife, a needy mistress, and expensive taste’s. However this lifestyle requires a lot of money, which is why Roger steals rare art with the help of his dodgy partner at a Security firm. When he makes the acquaintance of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) he thinks he has hit pay-dirt. Greve is just right for the new CEO position Roger is recruiting for and he also supposedly owns a rare lost Rubens painting. But when Roger burgles Greve’s house he finds a lot more than he was bargaining on…To say anymore would give away the hilarious plot twists that follow, as Roger finds himself in one crazy situation after another never sure just what exactly is going on & who he can trust. Exciting Norwegian thriller mines a bit of a Cohen brothers Fargo vibe in with some darkly humorous violence & colourful characters. Recommended. (Mark)
Taut UK thriller sees Sean Bean play an undercover Security Services agent ‘keeping an eye on’ a package of Semtex explosives. When they are stolen in a daring shoot-out & used by home-grown Islamic radicals to start a bombing campaign in London, Bean is tasked by his icy controller (Charlotte Rampling) to go off-book, track the terrorists down & dispatch them before more bombings take place. However ‘Cleanskin’ is far from just another vigilante action movie, as the film spends just as much time on the main Muslim character, with a series of lengthy flashbacks to his college years, his love for an English girl, & his path to radicalization. More intelligent & even-handed than you would assume from the cover, with only a few Bourne-like fight scenes as it builds the tension to the film’s climax, when the two characters intersect. Recommended if you’re a ‘Spooks’ fan. (Mark)