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Desert Island Classics: The Sweet Smell of Success

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I try not to put too many films into this category but The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is a unique movie. Burt Lancaster stars as J.J. Hunsecker, the sinister editor of a newspaper entertainment column and Tony Curtis as his Iago-like undlerling, Sydney Falco. Known for his terrifying smear campaigns, Hunsecker is weirdly obsessed with his adult sister Susie and controls her every move. When she falls in love with (gasp!) a jazz musician, Hunsecker will go to any length to destroy the relationship and convinces Falco to frame the boyfriend. The movie follows Falco's own love of power and how it entangles him in the quest to destroy the couple. What fascinated me the most about the movie was the use of jargon in the script. A translator is almost needed in some scenes where the two newspapermen quip back and forth in the language of the trade. There's a sense of zeitgeist in the film, in Susie's decision, and its condemnation of the "gutter press." Also available on blu-ray

Mel's Desert Island Classics:

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Director Denys Arcand is probably best known for his two films portraying a group of friends, middle-aged intellectuals who meet to share stories of their struggles and romantic conquests, summing up the spirit of our times in the process: Decline of the American Empire and its sequel, the Barbarian Invasions . These movies are French-language films, with English subtitles. Arcand is also well known internationally for Love and Human Remains starring Phoebe Cates (not at CPL), his adaptation of Brad Fraser's play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. Arcand's beautiful Jesus of Montreal is my pick as another film to watch multiple times and therefore qualifies as a film to have on your desert island.

An actor hired to direct a Passion play and star in the main role finds himself increasingly taking on the characteristics of Jesus. As he struggles to work on the production of the play, events unfold that reveal incidents in the life of Christ but on the streets of Montreal at that moment. One of the most compelling scenes is the young actor in effect driving the money-changers from the temple. Moving and profound, Arcand once again looks at society's collective loss of compassion and individuals' impact.

Mel's Desert Island Classics: Wings of Desire

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Wings of Desire is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. It begins with a calm still observation of life from the point of view of angels protecting people on earth. One of them falls in love with a trapeze artist and must decide if he will become human and mortal to be with her.

The plot may seem familiar. Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage starred in City of Angels, a remake of director Wim Wenders' original film. Wenders' vision extends beyond the angel-mortal love story and the film moves from black and white to colour and introduces comedic elements, such as the surprise appearance of a certain television detective in his famous raincoat.

Wim Wenders is a master storyteller, known for his documentary of Ry Cooder's collaboration with Cuban Jazz greats Ibrahim Ferrar, Eliades Ochoa, and others in Buena Vista Social Club. We have the Spanish edition of this dvd at several branches and it is the same as the English non fiction copy.

We also have Wenders' acclaimed Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastasia Kinski as father and daughter.

Desert Island Classic

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Dersu Uzala

Our desert island image really represents the polar opposite of the subject of this film but what better movie to watch when you are stuck on the hot sand than one that takes place in the cold? Akira Kursawa's Dersu Uzala makes viewers feel as if they are really in the frozen landscape of Russia.

There is only one copy of this dvd at the library, but try to see it. It is in our Russian dvd collection but is subtitled in English. Dersu Uzala won an academy award in 1975. Another great from the Japanese director of our previous desert island classic, it was filmed in the Soviet Union when Kurosawa's career had stalled in Japan.

Dersu Uzala tells the story of two men who develop a mutual respect and friendship while Dersu, a man who lives off the land, leads the other, socially rising army captain Arseniev on a journey through the remote, extreme climate of Russia. This is one of the great survival stories, and fans of storytellers such as Jack London will enjoy the narrative and 19th century setting. Maxim Munzuk's embodiment of the Russian native Nanai (or "Goldi") scout warms and then breaks your heart.

CPL's multilanguage dvd collection offers many fantastic films, most subtitled or captioned in English...Try one!

Mel's Desert Island Classics

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Another film I want on the Island with me....

A friend introduced me to Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter a few years ago, and I found it both strange and compelling. It is not to be confused with Night of the Iguana, Day of the Jackal, Night of the Jaguar, or Dawn of the Dead! Night of the Hunter is a suspenseful moral tale, with great black and white film techniques such as Laughton's use of silhouette and almost 2-D backdrops. A thief dies, leaving his family alone, but not before mentioning hidden treasure to his cell-mate. Only his little girl knows where it's hidden, and very soon a charismatic preacher (Robert Mitchum) arrives to woo the dead man's wife (Shelley Winters) and raise the son and daughter. Mitchum's character becomes increasingly controlling and violent, and while the town loves the charming false prophet, we see him through the terrified children's eyes. When his motives become clear, they flee for their lives in a rowboat.

Mel's Desert Island Classics

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Movies I want on the island with me-Nov 19th 2008

Everyone should watch Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samuraiat some point. Set in feudal Japan, the film follows a group of farmers struggling to protect their village from bands of brigands. With their crops and families at risk, they set out to the city to hire samurai to protect them, but they don't have any money to pay the warriors. The gathering of the samurai is my favorite part of the film. Kurosawa's usual leading man Toshiro Mifune is terrific as the trickster tag-a-long who wants to become a samurai. Others may enjoy the big battle scene in the rain (everyone getting soaked being a common scenario in Kurosawa's films--beautifully shot). All the emotions are covered. Seven Samurai is said to have inspired Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven. See the Britannica Encyclopedia in CPL's E-library for biographies and history.

If you want to learn about Kurosawa in more detail, check out these books: Waiting on the Weather, The Emperor and the Wolf, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Perspectives on Akira Kurosawa. Other Kurosawa films in the library's collection include Rashomon, a tale told from multiple points of view, The Hidden Fortressand High and Low.