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No Air Conditioner on this Train!

by Melanie - 1 Comment(s)

You might want to revisit this classic as a sort of antidote to Mad Men. Originally, scenes were cut from A Streetcar Named Desire due to censorship but Elia Kazan's full director's cut starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh is available at the library. There is a great production on Broadway now starring Blair Underwood as Stanley Kowalski. Now that I've lured you in with the good looks, here's a dose of reality...

In spite of all the parodies and over-quoted lines ("Stella!," "...the kindess of strangers") Streetcar is still a relevant and shocking stage play. Older sister Blanche is traumatized and manipulative, turning to an extreme femininity and aristocratic airs to make her way through life. On the other extreme, her sister's husband Stanley performs a stereotype of angry working-class masculinity. Blanche's sister, Stanley's wife, is caught between her duty to Blanche and her desire for Stanley, making the uncensored play not just about madness, as was often argued, but about dependence and the connection between restrictive gender roles and violence.


The Summer of Lars von Trier

by Melanie - 1 Comment(s)

Okay. Most people are barbeque-ing and whatnot in summertime. We seem to be watching a spate of movies by Lars von Trier, which is what we Movie Maniacs do.

In Five Obstructions, Lars makes another director re-do his original late 1960s experimental film but under a strict set of guidelines and then makes a terrifc documentary of the process.

I think Mat has already reviewed Dancer in the Dark starring Icelandic pop star Bjork. The soundtrack was very popular and a melodic departure from Bjork's earlier disco hits and Sugar Cubes work. She plays a young blind woman whose friendship with a local couple ends in tragedy.

Looking for a thriller? How about Lars' police vs. serial killer drama The Element of Crime? This is considered to part of trilogy that includes Europa, a thriller set in post-war Germany, and Epidemic, not in our collection at this time.

We're on the waiting list for Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as women threatened with planetary annihilation AND wedding planning! It sounds funny, but isn't.

Nicole Kidman stars in Dogville but that doesn't mean you should confuse Lars von Trier with Baz Luhrmann; for one thing, Lars is Danish. For another, this film is very creepy. A woman on the run is sheltered by a rural American community in the 1930s. Our male protagist is a driven young writer who never writes. These must be nice folks, taking in a stranger, right? For fans of theatre, the set is a stage with chalk outlines of buildings in the small town. The film is narrated "Sunshine Sketches/Wobegon" style.

The Boss of it All is a charming comedy that features a hapless everyman hired to fire everyone in a corporation so the real big boss doesn't have to. Fans of comedy series The Office will appreciate this one. In Danish with subtitles.

Take me with you!

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Moe is on holidays right now, so she's asked a few other Movie Maniacs to step in and write some guest blogs for her while she's away. I was totally fine with this prospect until she revealed exactly where it was that she'll be vacationing.

Hint: It's New Zealand.

Now! This is a pretty excellent destination to choose at any given time, but it just so happens to be the BEST destination at THIS given time.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Clearly you're not as big of a fan-girl as I am (neener neener)...

The reason why New Zealand is the place for any Movie Maniac to be right now is because Peter Jackson is currently working on the second leg of his new Tolkien epic, "The Hobbit" in that glorious country as I type.

Now what you have to understand, is that we're still AGES away from the release of this movie. The first phase of it JUST got into post-production, and they've still got loads of editing and tweaking and awesome-ifying to do yet, and everything else is in pre-production. This is ALSO only the first half of the journey -- they're splitting the novel into two films, like any smart adapter does these days.

Which means, my friends, that they are filming RIGHT NOW, in all their dwarvish make-up glory, in beautiful locations all across the land of the Kiwis. And I couldn't be more jealous of Moe for getting to be there.

If the set production vlogs are anything to go by (which I'm hoping they are, even though Jackson is not releasing them NEARLY as often as he should be...) this second leg of shooting will carry on well into December. And even though the sites and sets are a very closely guarded secret, this makes me hopeful that Moe might just stumble across a hobbit or an elf or a dragon here and there. She has told me they love drivng down back roads just to see where they come out, so with a little luck... At any rate, I've told her it's probably best to bring her lady-dwarf costume (beard and all) and some speedy running shoes for dodging the security guards.

As a tribute to the epicness that is Jackson's work in New Zealand, I've decided to include a couple of OTHER movies shot in this locale. Click on the titles for links to the Calgary Public Library catalogue!

Whale Rider, possibly the biggest film to actually focus on Kiwi culture and life, revolves around a young Maori girl and her search to fulfill her destiny. Beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, this one was up for an Oscar and 28 other awards. It won most of them.

King Kong and Lovely Bones (both directed by Jackson) are not set in NZ, but do use its gorgeous locations as backdrops. Both are written by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, two collaborators of Jackson's on LOTR. Both also have all-star casts, and one of them has Jack Black. What more can I say?

If you're into horror, 30 Days of Night (originally a graphic novel series) is a terrifying, and R-rated, Vampire flick... I promise these blood-suckers don't sparkle. Almost half of the cast is either Kiwi or Aussie, but you can't tell, because they're all pretending to be from Alaska.

I swear, New Zealand must have the most diverse climates and landscapes of any country... where else could pass for Pennsylvania, Alaska, Middle Earth... or Pandora?

That's right, James Cameron's epic Avatar was shot there too. Wanna know why? Check out this article from "Film New Zealand".

Other epic NZ-based movies include The Chronicles of Narnia,The Bridge to Terabithia (starring The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson), and Spielberg's highly anticapted Tintin movie, out this Christmas.

Three from Bahrani

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With only three full length features to his name, writer/director Ramin Bahrani has shown himself to be a master filmmaker. Bahrani, an American of Iranian descent, has focused on the Immigrant experience in the US. Using non-professional actors and shooting on location with natural light, his films have a distinct authenticity to them. His films are gritty, beautiful, and profound.

Man Push Cart (2005) - The story of a former Pakistani music star, now caught with the Sisyphean task of wheeling his coffee cart throughout Manhattan. A sobering look at the difficulties of new Americans just trying to make ends meet. Chop Shop (2007) - Follows the daily grind of 12 year old street orphan, Alejandro and his 16 year old sister. The siblings do what they must to survive and hopefully make a better life for themselves.

The film was Shot on location in the Willets Point slum of New York, directly in the shadow of Shae Stadium. Goodbye Solo (2008) - Follows the unlikely relationship of Solo, a Senegalese cab driver and his fare, William, a crotchety old southern-boy with a lifetime of regrets. A touching friendship develops between the two men, transcending their ages and cultural differences.

by Mat

Merchant + Ivory = Gold

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Anyone who loves period drama should know the directorial duo of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.

Merchant Ivory are best known for their adaptations of Edwardian novels starring Helena Bonham Carter before she partnered with animator Tim Burton. A Room with a View was a huge hit with its tale of passionate romance confronting Victorian values and stunning sepia-toned scenes of the Italian countryside.

Howard's End, based on Henry James' novel, followed after featuring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Earlier, they took on the Bostonians. We have one of their first films, from 1965, Shakespeare Wallah. We also have later films such as Before the Rains, another love story. The White Countess (2005) stars Natasha Richardson, Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave again.

Ivory on his own is responsible for The Remains of the Day (from Kazuo Ishigiro's novel) This is Emma Thompson's finest acting role and also one of Anthony Hopkins' best. He is superb as the reserved house manager of a county estate during and after World War II struggling with his sense of du

Christopher Nolan

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With all the buzz around the new Leo DiCaprio movie, Inception, it got me thinking I must do a post on Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed it. Catch it at the theatres or save yourself some money and wait for CPL to bring it in in a few months time. This is a really interesting movie which also features Marion Cotillard, whom Mel recently blogged about. Nolan already has a good track record and this latest effort will only enhance it, and deservedly so.

Along with his brother Jonathan, he co wrote the screenplay for The Dark Knight (the last Batman to be released). Now Batman has never been a superhero I like much- too full of angst for me. And I didn't really care for Dark Knight, although it was hugely popular and did garner Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor. But I did enjoy the earlier effort which was responsible for revitalizing the franchise- Batman Begins. Nolan is currently directing another as yet unnamed Batman project. Dark Knight is currently on order in Blue Ray.

Memento-from 2000 with Guy Pearce, Carrie Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano. This one is harder to pigeon hole into a genre, but if you like surreal, highly imaginative, non linear thrillers (and who doesn't), you'll really like this. Less abstruce and for me more watchable than The Matrix (another highly imaginative, surreal thriller with Moss and Pantoliano, although not a Chris Nolan project). Memento is intelligent and asks the viewer to pay very close attention---you might end up rewinding occassionaly through the viewing but stick with it---you'll enjoy the ride.

Another worth a look is Insomnia. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and starring 3 Oscar winners---Robin Williams, Hillary Swank, and Al Pacino. A little slow in spots, but overall a solid murder mystery/pyschological thriller. This is one of the few Pacino movies I actually don't find his acting completely over the top. Apparently he did suffer from insomnia during the filming in Alaska and it lends a real authenticity to his performance.

There is another movie of Nolan's that I absolutley love, but I am not going to give you that title just yet. I am working on another post which will feature it and I don't want to give it away. All you Chris Nolan fans out there will know to what I am referring. And for those of you who don't, it's something to look forward to! It is one of my all-time favourtie movies.

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.

Coen Brothers

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Can you believe we haven't devoted a post to the Coen Brothers until now? It was just too obvious. Often called 'the two-headed director' because any question that you ask of either of them, you get an identical answer. They burst onto the scene in 1984 with Blood Simple and haven't looked back. Definitely not to everyone's taste, but chances are good that if you like even one of their films, you will like others. Be warned that their films almost always contain some sort of extreme violence, often in a humorous context.

Big Lebowski Excepting Johnny Stecchino, this is Mel's favorite comedy of all time. See Moe's review in the Jeff "The Dude" Bridges post. Julianne Moore has a great role as a 80s performance artist. This is a safe intro to the Coens and a good movie if you need a lift.

Barton Fink - "I'll show you the life of the mind" John Goodman in his best role alongside John Turturro, a struggling screenwriter whose preoccupation with his writer's block distracts him from the trouble around and pointing to him.

Blood Simple - This juicy modern film noir was the brothers' directorial debut and Francis McDormand's acting debut. The screenplay does a wonderful job up keeping the audience in the know, while the characters remain clueless.

Serious Man - Just watched this one on the weekend and I really enjoyed it. Quietly profound story of a man's search for meaning in his life, set in 1960's Minnesota suburbia.

The Man Who Wasn't There - The Coens pay homage to 1940's style film-noir in this beautifuly photographed Black and White film. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a surburban barber who gets mixed up in a complex blackmailing scheme. A sadly underrated film with great supporting performances from Frances McDormand & James Gandolfini.

Paris, je taime - The Coen's wrote and directed a short film ("Tuileries") for this collection of shorts set in and around Paris. "Tuileries," is a comic short involving Steve Buscemi's wait for a train at the Paris Metro Station.

The Hudsucker Proxy - A tribute to the '40s screwball comedies of Sturges, Hawks, and Capra. A highly stylised film, starring Tim Robbins as a mail clerk who gets an overnight promotion to CEO. Over-the-top and silly ... but still kind of fun.

Intolerable Cruelty - One of the brothers weaker efforts. George Clooney stars as a womanizing divorce layer with eyes for one of his rich clients (Catherine Zeta Jones). Nevertheless, this romantic comedy was popular with wider audiences.

No Country For Old Men - Winner of the 2007 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. This is the story of a hunter who stumbles across $2 Million from an apparent drug deal gone bad. Brilliant and disturbing, with great performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem.

Burn After Reading - A star cast including Pitt, Clooney, McDormand, Malkovich,Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins (who, you ask? you'll know him when you see him, you just didn't know his name). This is darkly funny and classic Coen. Lots of plot lines converge around a woman who's "gone as far as she can with what God gave her" and now needs some surgical intervention. This is Moe's fave.

Raising Arizona - Still one of Nicolas Cage's best movies. See our Nicolas Cage Revisited post.

Oh Brother, where art Thou? One to rewatch. Technically it's a musical and some say a reworking of Homer's Odyssey through the depression era Southern States. George Clooney's best role still. He and his jailbird companions escape the law and various snares.

Happy viewing!

Four from Fritz

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The Austrian born Fritz Lang was a film maker who spent his early career making movies in Germany. As the Nazi party grew more powerful Lang left for America, where he lived until his death in 1976. Although some consider Lang's work to be too melodramatic he is ofen credited with helping to establish the characteristics of film noir. His movies are full of paranoia, psychological conflict, and characters with very unsteady moral compasses. They can also be rather brutal. He co-wrote both M and Metropolis with his wife Thea von Harbou.

M---I alluded to this film in the post Mob Rule, and I am happy tp report that it is now on order. Unless you "sprechen sie Deutsch" you will be watching this one with sub-titles, but it is absolutely worth it. During the climactic final scene in M, Lang allegedly threw star Peter Lorre down a flight of stairs in order to give more authenticity to Lorre's battered look.

Scarlet Street---a married man, a mid-life crisis, a greedy, lazy woman, and an amoral boyfriend---this can't end well.

House by the River---what a well done creepy movie. The cinematography is wonderfully dark, the scenes on the river are eerie, and somehow the antagonist manages to be both whiny and scary.

Metropolis---I'm not even going to try to tell you about Metropolis---just take my word and watch it. As it is a silent film (from 1927) make sure you have your glasses handy as well as your remote. Beautifully restored, it is an amazing accomplishment. It shows up continually on must see lists and in researching this post I came upon this interesting fact: it used 26,000 male extras, 11,000 female extras, and 750 child extras.Truly a cast of 1000's.

Director JJ

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Jim Jarmusch's movies are worth repeat viewings. Get going if you haven't seen these offbeat treasures with great soundtracks frequently including Tom Waits and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. They are among the best films of the 1990s world-wide.

Here are a few that are in, or coming, to the collection:

Down by Law: a man framed by the police goes on the road and takes up with a charming couple played by Italian comedy duo and spouses Roberto Benini and Nicholetta Braschi (of Life is Beautiful) fame. Tom Waits also stars.

Limits of Control-Jarmusch's latest-can't wait to see it!

Dead Man-starring Johnny Depp. See the Best Westerns summary

Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray. Murray plays a quiet man, searching for a son he may or may not have had as he revisits past relationships. It's an unusual and thoughtful road movie, featuring eastern American countryside.

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai Forest Whitaker plays a lone enforcer devoted to the ways of ancient Japanese war but in hip-hop fashion. A must see, and not just for the scenes of the sailboat being built on the roof of an inner city apartment.

Night on Earth vignettes of life from inside several taxis in different cities around the wo

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