Staff Picks DVDs April

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. (Yes, we know it’s May, we had to catch up with our own viewing!)

Cover imageArbitrage.
Slick thriller sees Richard Gere play Robert Miller, an unscrupulous hedge fund manager, juggling his wife (Susan Sarandon), his temperamental artist mistress (Laetitia Casta), his CFO daughter (Brit Marling), the upcoming sale of his Investment Company, a federal audit, and the fact that he’s covering up a $400 million dollar hole in his corporate assets. When he’s involved in a late-night car accident with his mistress, his carefully built house on cards begins to crumble… Gere is commanding as the main character, easily one of his best performances in years, with solid support from newcomer Marling, and Tim Roth as the tenacious Detective who begins to unravel Miller’s complicity. Recommended if you enjoyed Margin Call, Michael Clayton, or The Ides of March. (Mark)

Cover imageParks and recreation. Season three.
I am in danger of becoming a squeaky wheel when it comes to this series, from consistently telling everyone around me who appreciates intelligent, ironic, deadpan satirical humour to watch it. People generally believe (mostly correctly) that Americans can’t do satire, but this series, produced by the same crew behind “The Office’, is arguably the funniest thing on TV at the moment and just gets better and better. By Series 2 the cast had settled into their characters and Series 3 and Series 4, which both joined the library collection in short succession due to some odd time lag, feature the larger than life but oddly believable characters delivering tight, heart-warming and incredibly funny scripts with utter confidence. (John)

Cover imageLe samouraï.
Iconic French Noir classic from director Jean-Pierre Melville sees Alain Delon in perhaps his best role. Jeff Costello is a zen-like hitman, an aloof, meticulous, professional who always completes a job. When he is seen by an alluring jazz pianist as he escapes a night club after killing its owner, he is brought in for a line up by a determined Police inspector. For reasons of her own the pianist refuses to positively identify him, but despite this (and his pre-arranged alibi) the Inspector is certain of his guilt, and proceeds to have his every move monitored. Meanwhile his criminal employers become suspicious of how he secured his freedom & decide that it might be better off if he’s taken care of…Melville’s homage to 50’s crime novels & the Alan Ladd vehicle ‘This Gun For Hire’ is a master-class of style & minimalism, full of washed out colours, long silences, & Delon’s masterfully moody & subtle performance. Each shot a perfectly realized blend of cinematography, direction, and implication. An obvious influence on American directors such as Walter Hill (The Driver), Michael Mann (Thief, Heat), & more explicitly Asian cinema (John Woo’s The Killer). Lovely, sharp looking criterion edition includes an extensive booklet, including an interview with Melville & a tribute to Melville from John Woo. (Mark)

Cover imageGerman wanderlust with Julia Bradbury.
Julia Bradbury is the girl to get you off the couch. With a stride than covers half a county and a smile almost as wide this doyen of the walking world is a celebrity in Britain and fast making a name for herself around the world. She has made several television series, most set in Britain (Canal walks, Railway walks, Wainwright walks). This series illustrates the close relationship between German romanticism and the country’s walking traditions. From the Bavarian Alps to the Baltic coast, the mighty Rhine to the River Elbe this DVD will open your eyes to beauties of an often overlooked European country. It will also open your eyes to the joy of walking. You may never use the car again. (Sue)

Cover imageNight moves.
Downbeat flick from director Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde) is one of the best crime movies of the 1970’s. Gene Hackman is an ex-Football player turned Private Eye (who has just discovered his wife is cheating on him), hired by a faded actress to find her wild & wayward daughter (a young Melanie Griffith). Hackman tracks her down easily enough in the Florida Keyes, where she is staying with her stepfather. Spending time there, Hackman begins an affair with the sultry girlfriend of the girl’s stepfather while the girl, swimming one night, comes across the wreck of a crashed plane. Finally Hackman convinces the girl to return to Hollywood with him, and resumes his life – only to later learn she has been killed in a stunt accident on a Hollywood film set. But was it really an accident?…. ‘Night Moves’ exudes a bleak post-Watergate vibe of greed, personal betrayals, & disillusionment as events spiral to the violent & poignant ending. Recommended to anyone who liked Chinatown, The Drowning Pool, The Long Goodbye, or L.A Confidential. (Mark)

Cover imageThe hour. Series 2.
Set in 1957, this well researched historical drama successfully recreates the sombre mood of post WW2 cold war London. The story revolves around the production crew of a fledgling BBC current affairs programme ‘The Hour’, which is a precursor of TV shows such as ‘Campbell Live’, and it is remarkable to observe just how far broadcast media has evolved over 50 years. Series 1 was critically acclaimed, receiving several Bafta nominations, and Series 2 maintains the high standard of production design. Sadly, plans for a third series were scrapped, however over 20,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that the tale continue to unfold – for fans; this is the URL of the petition. (John)

Cover imageBug.
Disturbing psychological horror, based on a play by Tracey Letts, & directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). Ashley Judd is Agnes, a lonely waitress hiding out in a dive hotel fearing the return of her abusive ex-husband (a creepy Harry Connick Jr). When charismatic drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) appears she begins to believe she has made a connection, & she reveals to him the tragic history of her missing child. However Peter is not really who he seems & slowly reveals his history as a Middle-East war vet who was experimented on by the Government, and who believes himself infected by ‘bugs’. Gradually he begins to pull Agnes into his delusion, and what follows is a weird descent into, paranoia, insanity & obsession, along the lines of Requiem For A Dream. Definitely (can’t stress that enough) not for everyone, ‘Bug’ is one of those movies that polarizes opinion. Most of the action takes place in Judd’s hotel room, and transferred from a play it has at times a stagey, overdone feel. Still both Shannon & Judd are excellent, especially Judd, and after the shocking end it’s her character that lingers longest. (Mark)

Cover imageOnce upon a time in Anatolia.
I’m still a bit doubtful if the last 30 minutes of this film is really necessary, but I had the most extraordinary cinematic experiences when I saw it at Embassy theatre. Since the success of Uzak (2002), Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films have always featured at Cannes, and this film was a deserved winner of Grand Prix (the second-most prestigious prize) in 2011. This slow-burning drama appears to be a kind of crime story, but Ceylan’s eyes are on the men who are involved in the search and their life, not on solving the mystery. Masterfully taking a beauty of Turkish scenery (Anatolian steppes), the story gradually evolves into a subtly intricate human drama. You can see great inheritances of Tarkovsky, Antonioni, and Ozu in Ceylan’s creative vision. It’s anti-dramatic but a glorious watch. (Shinji)

Cover imageEasy money.
Lowly Business student JW is living a double life, mingling in night clubs with Stockholm’s young & wealthy elite, while driving a cab during the day. He crosses paths with Jorge, a drug dealer who has escaped from prison who needs someone with JW’s business skills to legitimise his money. Mrado is a Serbian Mafia enforcer who has been allocated the task of taking Jorge out before he encroaches on the Serbian drug trade, however he unexpectedly finds himself having to care for the young daughter he hardly knows. Meanwhile Jorges attempt to broker a massive cocaine deal that will set everyone up for life…Slick Swedish thriller based on the best selling novel by Jens Lapidus. Definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of Euro thrillers & Scandinavian crime. (Mark)

StaffPicksDVDs19Shut up and play the hits: the very loud ending of LCD Soundsystem.
The best music Doco’s are those that can be enjoyed whether you are familiar with the artist or not – and this film, based around the last ever performance of New York band LCD Sound System, is just that. The performance itself is excellent – tight, inspired and funky as hell; however, intercutting sequences from main-man, James Murphy’s domestic life raises the bar considerably and changes the film from being a mere recording of a concert to something else entirely. A few years ago the Pixies film Loud, Quiet, Loud took a similar approach and consequently was featured in film festival programmes worldwide, and that is what happened to this film. Cutting from Murphy singing his heart out in front of 10,000 fans to him patiently waiting for his pet dog to take a poop outside his NY apartment is nothing short of inspired. (John)

Cover imageJackpot.
When Oscar wakes up in a seedy strip club he finds he is holding a shotgun and is surrounded by 8 dead bodies & several live policemen…who promptly arrest him. However Oscar then proceeds to tell a lurid tale of a Christmas Tree factory run by ex-criminals, a lottery jackpot, a headless corpse, a gambling debt, and a great deal of bloodshed. Farcical black comedy very much along the lines of Fargo & Tarantino. Scripted by Scandinavian crime writer Jo Nesbo & while not as good as Headhunters, based on his novel, it’s still an entertaining watch if you like your humour on the dark side. (Mark)

Cover imageWhat about me?.
Just watched ‘I Giant Leap: What About Me?’. It was amazing! It’s not a new doco but totally absorbing. What a fantastic idea: two musos travel around the world seamlessly blending unbelievably beautiful music and singing with dialogue from philosophers, teachers, religious and spiritual ‘gurus’, political commentators etc regarding the BIG questions ‘Who Am I?’, ‘What Am I doing Here?’ and importantly ‘Why Aren’t I Happy?!’. Beautifully illustrates how real, heartfelt music and spirituality are very much conjoined. Riveting stuff! (Ellie)

Cover imageBorgen. Season one.
Viewers drawn into ‘Borgen’ from other Danish shows such as The Killing or The Protectors may find ‘Borgen’ a different kettle of fish. While Season 1 of ‘The Killing’ delved into the shifting face of Danish small party politics, it was always backed by the tension of an ongoing murder enquiry, whereas ‘Borgen’ is a purely political drama. A series of co-incidences, along with an impassioned Party debate speech, suddenly thrusts Moderate Party leader Birgitte Nyborg into prominence, with the result that her Party wins a record number of seats. Charged with forming a Coalition government various political maneavourings occur, resulting in her becoming Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. The following drama plays out around various political crisis points, examining the erosion of idealism faced with the practicalities of compromise politics & the growing strain on her personal life & family. A show that requires patience to absorb. Best recommended if you’re a fan of The West Wing, Geena Davis’ Commander In Chief, or UK Political drama’s. (Mark)

Cover imageShut up little man!: an audio misadventure.
An intriguing film about a pre-internet viral media phenomenon. When two students decided to record the very loud arguments coming from their alcoholic next door neighbour’s apartment they could not foresee just how wide an audience those recordings would eventually find. While the recordings went on to spawn a play, a graphic novel and bootleg cassettes and CDs galore, the two hapless drunks had no idea that they had become an underground phenomena. This Doco traces the trajectory of the rise of a viral phenomena but also questions issues such as the right to privacy and who owns life as art. (John)

Cover imageYour sister’s sister.
Entertaining offbeat, indie romance/drama sees Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) as Jack, a directionless slacker still troubled by the death of his brother a year ago. When his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), also his late brothers girlfriend, suggests he spend some time alone at her family’s cabin on Puget Sound he takes her up on her offer. Only when he arrives he finds that someone is already there – Iris’ sister Hannah, who has just ended a long-term lesbian relationship. When Iris decides to surprise Jack at the cabin, she soon discovers that Jack & Hannah have swapped more than just stories…Directed by Lynn Shelton, ‘Your Sisters Sister’ features a great trio of natural performances that tease out the complicated lines of romance & friendship. Has a talky, improvised feel that may not be to everyone’s taste, but definitely worth a watch as alternative to the usual Hollywood fare in this genre. (Mark)

Cover imageDeclaration of war.
They are Romeo and Juliet. They became parents after a one-night stand, but are optimistic and happy to raise a child. However, their baby doesn’t seem to be well; in fact, has a brain tumour. It plunges them into darkness, but they declare war against all the challenges they may face. Based on the actual experience of the director/main character Valerie Donzelli and co-writer/co-star Jeremie Elkaim, who were once together and have a child with cancer, the film depicts their journey through the treatment. This sounds rather depressing and it could have been a weepy melodrama. However, the film has a bouncing pace which gives you a feeling that they sprint throughout, and is somehow uplifting. It has even a comical touch, although there are gloomy moments, of course. This film is not about the child, but about the young parents who grow mature through their nightmare experiences. There may be some flaws in this film but it’s encouraging and heart-warming. This fast-paced film ends with beautiful slow motion. Lovely. (Shinji)

Cover imageBernie.
Completely bizarre tale, based on a real life story, of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), an undertaker in the small Texas town of Carthage. Bernie’s zest for life & empathetic personality make him the town’s most beloved person, captivating everyone with his selfless acts. Bernie even wins over the town’s richest & meanest widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), eventually becoming her travelling companion & business manager. But the tyrannical Marjorie’s possessive, sour demeanour & demands on his time begin to wear down the affable Bernie until one day he just can’t take it any more… Black gives a career best, perfectly pitched, performance as Bernie and the supporting cast of MacLaine & Matthew McConaughey, as Prosecutor ‘Danny-Buck’, are also spot on. However what makes the movie so unique, is that Director Richard Linklater uses a mixture of interviews with the real residents of Carthage who knew Bernie & Marjorie to structure the story & narrative, giving the film a documentary like feel. Recommended if you like something a bit different. (Mark)

Cover imageSearching for Sugar Man.
If, like me, you had put this film on your ‘will watch one day as I am curious as to why everyone seems to like it but I am not expecting a lot’ list then time for a rethink. Admirably living up to the hype, this film documents an intriguing story that would be deemed far fetched if it had been made up but is even more amazing as it is absolutely true. The existence of archival footage helps enormously and the scenes of Rodriguez eventual triumphant return to South Africa are pure movie magic. For those who don’t know, Rodriquez was a failed Latino American rock star who worked for twenty years as a builder’ labourer, completely unaware that he had attained cult status in South Africa, being bigger than Elvis Presley. This is the story of a journalists’ quest and the unexpected results. (John)

Cover imageEnd of watch.
Gritty street cops story from writer/director David Ayer (Training Day, Dark Blue, Street Kings). Ayer uses found footage from video recorders, surveillance cameras, internal car cams etc, to portray the policing & friendship of two officers, Brian (Jake Gyllenhall) & Mike (Michael Pena), as they work the streets of South Central Los Angeles. The film’s key lies in its loose narrative structure, recalling the work of police officer turned writer Joseph Wambaugh, with its focus on the day to day life of officers patrolling together, the diverse, occasionally dangerous, situations they encounter, & the camaraderie, loyalty & comedy that is central to the officer’s relationship. When the two officers cross paths with a Mexican drug cartel during a routine traffic stop, events are set in motion that soon spiral out of control…Recommended if you enjoyed Ayer’s previous work. (Mark)

Cover imageRuby Sparks.
Author Calvin has writer’s block and then suddenly a young woman called Ruby seems to appear out of nowhere – no family, no friends, no background. Has she come to help or hinder his writing – is she real or fiction? This is very clever writing and well worth seeing. (Liz)
Meta rom-com from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine sees Paul Dano as Calvin, a wonderkid novelist whose first novel caused a literary sensation while he was in his teens and who, ten years later, is still struggling to write a follow-up. He starts to dream of a girl called Ruby (Zoe Kazan), & with prompting from his therapist begins to write about her…only to wake up one morning to find she is living in his house as his girlfriend. Convinced he’s found the perfect woman who loves him unconditionally, he puts away his writing…until Ruby’s attentions start to wander & he realises he can control via his writing. Scripted by actress Kazan, the film focuses on the romantic fantasy of the perfect relationship, but manages to make some strong points on the way people control each other, and while it ultimately doesn’t take the idea as far as it could possibly have it’s a lot more enjoyable than the average Hollywood rom-com. (Mark)

Cover imageSleepwalkers.
Short lived 90’s Sci-Fi series helmed by the underrated Bruce Greenwood, playing a scientist who runs The Morpheus Institute, a research facility where he & fellow scientists (Naomi Watts, Jeffrey D. Sams, Abraham Benrubi) use technology to enter the dreams of troubled patients in order to diagnose their problems. Influenced somewhat by the Dennis Quaid 1984 movie ‘Dreamscape’, it suffers from an obviously low budget, so at times comes off like an X-Files clone or bad episodes of the Twilight Zone, but when it works well it shows an unrealised promise & ideas that would take someone like Christopher Nolan to bring to fruition with Inception. Worth a look if you have a soft spot for 90s Sci-Fi. (Mark)