Staff Picks: Movies at the Library

Here are some new, and older movies, that our library cinephiles have enjoyed watching recently.

Gus’ Picks:

The worst person in the world
Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s latest film which follows four years in the life of Julie, a woman on the verge of her thirties trying to figure out herself, her career, her passions, and her love life. Told episodically in acts, the film is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at articulating that particular Millennial desire to be remarkable in your time, how being anything less makes you feel like the titular ‘worst person in the world’, and the malaise that soon sets in from both the disappointment on never succeeding and the relief of never committing. Heartwarming, hilarious, and not a little profound.

The Matrix Resurrections
I always thought ‘The Matrix’ was the one series that actually deserved a modern reboot; like the ‘red pill’, it’s easier to swallow a concept like the Matrix in a world that has been moulded even more by computers and algorithms than ever before. The question is, what do you say with that idea today? What, for better or worse, has the Matrix, both the film and the concept, done to our culture? Does it still have a place in the era of Twitter and virtual reality? Fortunately, Lana Wachowski (now directing solo without her sister, Lily) has been stewing on those questions, and delivers a sequel that both expertly updates the concept and puts it in context of its own legacy. Don’t go in expecting it to reinvent cinema like the first one, just remember to keep your mind open to the possibilities. Some ideas are just too good to stay dead.

Denis Villeneuve takes a crack at the ‘unadaptable’ space epic that defined science fiction for decades, and he proves more than up to the task. While definitely feeling like a ‘Part 1’, Dune’s scope, worldbuilding, creature design, and cinematography are second-to-none, and the epic, mesmerising score by Hans Zimmer is the perfect compliment. On a personal note, I think this is the best realisation of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide line “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”.

The courier
Based on the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman who gets roped into smuggling secrets out of Russia on behalf of the CIA and MI:6. A solid Cold War thriller, and a reminder that Benedict Cumberbatch is actually a really great actor when he’s not being stunt-cast (see also: Patrick Melrose).

First cow
In 1820s Oregon, a humble cook from Maryland and a worldly immigrant from China meet through happenstance and become fast friends, eventually setting up a business selling ‘oily cakes’ to the hungry trappers and settlers in their neck of the woods. However, the only way they can get the milk for their cakes is to steal it from the only cow around, which happens to be owned by the richest man in the territory. The first half is about two guys in 1820s start-up culture, while the second half is the sweetest, gentlest heist movie you’ll ever see. Perfect for a rainy weekend or a quiet night in.

Nicholas Cage plays a retired chef, keen to live out his life in the relative wilderness with his truffle-hunting pig. But one night, his pig is stolen under cover of darkness, and the chef must team up with his only client in order to track it down. While marketed as ‘John Wick with a chef’, the punches thrown in Pig are few and far between, and the film eventually reveals itself to be something more like a Greek tragedy (mythological references abound if one pays attention; a restaurant named for the Greek goddess of the hearth, and the film’s overall structure recalls the story of Orpheus and Eurydice). Like those myths of old, this film knows that fate is fickle and life is transient and fleeting, our pleasures and cherished relationships best savoured in the moment like dishes prepared with care. As Cage elegantly puts it at the midway point of the film: “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about”.

The bad guys
Based on the popular children’s book series by Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys follows a team of anthropomorphic animal criminals who specialise in bank robberies and jewel heists. Since the group are all predator species (to wit: a wolf, a great white shark, a tarantula, a snake and a piranha), society is prejudiced against them for being scary and unpleasant on principle, so the crew lean into their ‘badness’ on every occasion. But one job gone wrong forces them to reckon with the idea that they could turn their lot around and be the ‘good guys’, sending the crew on a redemption arc. Taking after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and classic anime like Lupin III in its animation style by blending traditional 2D and CGI animation techniques, every frame of The Bad Guys is a treat to watch. The multiple car chases and heists are dynamic and madcap, while its story takes every opportunity to riff on classic criminal caper films like Pulp Fiction and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s sure to please viewers of every age, and as someone who loves both Steven Soderbergh and Spider-Verse in equal measure, it was absolute catnip for me.

Kyan’s Picks:
Red rocket
The same director as Tangerine and The Florida Project, Red Rocket is set in Dir Sean Baker’s familiar naturalist, highly saturated lush view on the most impoverished parts of America. However this film follows one of the most charmingly reprehensible protagonists, a down on his luck aging porn star who looks for any grift or vulnerable person to take advantage of. It’s intimate and beautiful while also leaving you feeling very uncomfortable and cheering the protagonist to be stopped.

One of the most unsettling existentially horrifying films I’ve seen in a long while. Completely without jump scares, this film is disturbing because of the ideas it’s forcing you to think about. The claustrophobic inevitability of death, multi generational inherited trauma are literalized in this haunted house horror.


Memories of murder
From the director of Parasite, this early classic of his has many of his familiar actors and his authorial style in full form.


Mark’s Picks:
The thirteenth floor
Unfortunately released at the same time as the original Matrix movie, this film lacked the big stars, hype & action sequences of that movie, but in many ways is as good, if not better. Based on the obscure 1950’s Sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, and previously filmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as World on a Wire, the story stars Craig Bierko as Douglas Hall a computer software expert who, along with his partner, has developed a computer-generated virtual world (based on 1937 Los Angeles) that they are able to ‘download’ into, and take control of the ‘Units’ that live in it. However when his partner is murdered, leaving Hall a cryptic message on his phone, and his partners mysterious daughter (Gretchen Mol) arrives and begins to shut down the project, he begins to believe clues to his partners death are somewhere inside the virtual world. But what he discovers is far more than he imagined… A great overlooked movie, a kind of ‘thinking man’s’ Matrix. For fans of films like Gattaca & Cypher.

Glengarry Glen Ross
The first rule of selling real estate? A.B.C – Always Be Closing. If a bunch of grown men shouting at each other for an hour and a half is your idea of good viewing, then this is the movie for you. A cast of acting heavyweights including Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Jack Lemon & Alan Arkin portray competitive real estate salesmen in this adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer prize-winning play. Things are not going well at Premiere Properties & the salesmen have been told that any agent who fails to meet his quota will lose his job. Those who ‘close’ will get the brand new sales ‘leads’ for the new property ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, but then the new ‘leads’ go missing… Outstanding acting prevails in this dialogue heavy movie, often regarded as a critique of ‘Reaganism’. You can feel the desperation to ‘sell’, especially in the performance of Lemon. Worth watching just for Alec Baldwin (in the movie for less than 10 minutes) as a ‘motivator’ sent form head office who delivers a ‘pep’ talk that has to be heard to be believed – a scene that became so infamous it was spoofed on ‘The Simpsons’.

The Spanish Prisoner
Somewhat impenetrable yet thoroughly entertaining this complex thriller written and directed by David Mamet takes its name from an old fashioned con-game. Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is a naive good guy who invents the ‘process’, a mathematical formula that when applied to a business context will make his company (or any other) a staggering amount of money. On a trip to a Caribbean island to present the ‘process’, he meets Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) a smooth businessman. Back on the mainland he begins to suspect his company will not reward him fairly for his new invention, and turns to his new friend for help. But this is just the beginning in a series of convoluted twists and turns which leave Scott unsure just who he can trust, if anyone. Scott is good as the ‘boy-scout’ inventor, but it’s Martin who steals the movie playing against type, as the mysterious Jimmy Dell. Mamet’s usual top notch supporting cast weighs in with great performances, especially Rebecca Pidgeon as Joe’s new assistant.

Surprisingly gripping 90’s B-movie thriller sees a couple (played by Kurt Russell & Kathleen Quinlan) breakdown in the desert during a cross country move to California. Luckily a passing trucker offers to give Quinlan a lift to a nearby diner, while Russell stays with the car. Becoming worried when they don’t return he hikes to the diner, only to find that no one has seen his wife, and things only get worse when the trucker claims to have never seen him before. Reminiscent of movies such as Duel, Dead Calm & Deliverance it never presents anything startlingly original, yet writer-director Jonathan Mostow (who later went on to direct Terminator 3) fills even the most conventional action scenes with adrenaline edge of your seats moments. Russell is outstanding as your bewildered ‘everyman’ who finds himself trapped in a surreal nightmare, and the great J.T Walsh (in one of his last roles) is perfect as the devious redneck truck driver.

The cat’s meow
A dramatisation by Peter Bogdanovich of one of Hollywood’s most famously unsolved murders. In 1924, the incredibly powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst held a lavish party aboard his yacht (with guest such as Charlie Chaplin, gossip columnist Louella Parsons & Hearst’s mistress actress Marion Davies) which ended with the mysterious shooting of producer Thomas Ince. No one was ever charged with a crime, and to this day lurid accounts of what actually transpired & even who was aboard differ dramatically, and The Cat’s Meow sets out to recreate one of the most widely held theories as to what happened. Kirsten Dunst stands out as Hearst’s mistress, and comedian Eddie Izzard is surprisingly good as Chaplin. While it may be more of a ‘fable’ than an attempt to be entirely accurate in its depictions of the characters, it still makes for an entertaining period piece.

The game
Underrated David Fincher movie that sees Michael Douglas give a great performance as a rigidly controlled investment banker just turned 48, the same age that his father was when he inexplicably killed himself. For his birthday his rebellious younger brother (Sean Penn) gives him a gift certificate to a group called ‘Consumer Recreation Services’ who provide ‘what’s lacking’ in their customers lives. Before he even realises the ‘game’ has begun, a strange series of incidents begin to occur, gradually knocking away the underpinnings of his privileged existence. A current business deal becomes involved & he gradually begins to question the motivations of the mysterious CSR. An ordinary waitress seems to be the only person he can trust… A thinking person’s thriller, that only relies on action to ratchet up the paranoia and tension that is generated when you can no longer trust reality to be ‘real’. Douglas is brilliant, as is Deborah Kara Unger as the waitress. A tad far-fetched at times, but worth it, especially for the great ‘twist’ at the end.

The prestige
The Prestige is directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, Tenet etc) from the novel by Christopher Priest, and tells the story of two stage Magicians in late 18th Century London Robert Angier & Alfred Borden (played by Hugh Jackman & Christian Bale). They become bitter rivals after Angier blames Borden for a stage accident that kills his wife and becomes obsessed with unlocking the secret behind Borden’s stage illusion ‘The Transported Man’. This leads to them committing various acts of sabotage upon each others stage act, which culminates in Angier’s final act of revenge upon Borden – or so it seems. Bale really has to be one of the best actors of his generation, an actor whose movies people will be watched in 50 years, as opposed to any of Hollywood’s big marquee names. He mesmerizes in this movie, as the thickly accented Borden, making up for a pace that some may find slow. Jackman is equally good as the less sympathetic Angier, and a great supporting cast includes Scarlett Johansson as the assistant that falls for both Bale & Jackman, Michael Caine as the illusion designer, & David Bowie as electrical genius Nikolai Tesla.

Shinji’s Picks:
Small axe : a collection of 5 films from Steve McQueen
Only the animals
I’m your man
Drive my car
A face in the crowd
Bigger than life
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