Blog: Flick Picks

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Flick Picks 7/24/2015: Tangerines, Slow West

The dog days would seem to be upon us. For some, the heat, the humidity, like those big budget films crashing through the multiplex, are good things. For others of us...not so much. This is a time of year when the flow of substantial films seems to slow to a near trickle, a phenomenon mirrored by the limited number of DVD releases just now. Fortunately, the new arrivals in DVD offer a rare chance for summer substance.

Foreign Film





Flick Picks 7/17/2015: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Crimson Field, Five Easy Pieces

A somewhat light agenda this week, but not without its globetrotting, a few thrills, the perils of war and a classic dose of early 1970's alienation.  All of that, and one of the world's great structures rising before our very eyes....

Feature Films

Okay, the journey might be a bit familiar this time, but we are still in very good company.  Everyone (save the character who perished in first film) is back, as well as silver-haired Yanks David Straithairn and Richard Gere, the latter making the heart Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) go pitter-patter.  Dame Judy returns, so too the wonderful Bill Nighy.  Even Penelope Wilton is back to haunt the happy emigres, hopefully with  a less tragic hairdo and dialog than was the case in the first film.

Foreign Film

Roman de gare is actually a 2007 film from French veteran Claude Lelouch, finally making its way to DVD and international distribution.  The radiant Fanny Ardant stars as a writer looking for ideas for her next thriller, getting much more material than she bargained for.  


Part of the BBC's massive World War I centenary season, The Crimson Field delves into the lives of medical staff and patients at a fictional field hospital in France during the First World War.  


Director Bob Rafelson and the inimitable Jack Nicholson combined their talents for several films, never more successfully than with Five Easy Pieces.  Nicholson plays Robert Eroica Dupea, estranged from his affluent, dysfunctional family and the world in general.  Poor, good-hearted Karen Black tries to love the alienated Dupea.  Best known for what may be the most tortured and humorous diner order in film history (should it really be so hard to order wheat toast?), Five Easy Pieces is a film of considerable feeling and substance at time rich with films (and audiences) unafraid to venture into uncomfortable ground.  If you haven't seen Five Easy Pieces in years, or never had the pleasure, enjoy this new Criterion Collection edition.  


Amazing as the experience might be of visiting Notre Dame, Chartres, the Hagia Sofia, or Angor Wat, you're obviously seeing great structures that have been completed and in place for centuries.  Not so, with Sagradia Familia, the great Antonio Gaudi's "Expiatory Temple."  It's being built as we speak.  Gaudi saw only a small portion of the church completed before his death 1926.  The Spanish Civil War and further upheaval delayed construction, which now takes place at a furious rate.  Sagrada Familia:  The Mystery of Creation offers some good background and striking visuals, more than compensating for occasionally tiresome and pretentious narration.   




Flick Picks 7/10/2015: Woman in Gold, While We're Young, '71, It Follows

Flick Picks returns from a brief hiatus with a bumper crop of DVDs, rich in number and variety.  Let's jump right in....

Feature Films


Somewhat loosely based on real events, Woman in Gold dramatizes the attempt of Maria Altman to reclaim the Klimt painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which had been confiscated from her family by the Nazis prior to World War II.  The ever-reliable Helen Mirren plays Ms. Altman, whose case against the Austrian government was ultimately carried to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case of Maria Altman has been the subject (exclusively or in part) of no less than three documentaries, two of which can be found at the Glencoe Library.  ADELE'S WISH is a 2008 documentary about the case, while the fascinating RAPE OF EUROPA considers the entire spectrum of art stolen or put in emperiled by the Nazis, the theft of the famous Klimpt painting included.


Director Noah Baumbach's happy period continues.  Well...everything is relative.  But with While We're Young, Baumbach has delivered one of his more blatantly comedic efforts, even if the aftertaste is wistful as ever.  Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a childless, 40-something couple who begin to hang out with and even emulate a pair of young New York hipsters.


Almost universally acclaimed, '71 is the story of a young British soldier left behind by his unit in Belfast during the violent "Troubles."  Jack O'Connell (Unbroken), stars as the soldier, who must negotiate a night in Belfast on his own to find his way to safety.  If you're looking for something smart and thrilling (as summer fare goes, about as rare as snow in July), '71 might be the film for you.

A good period for horror films (e.g., the recent BABADOOK and SPRING) continues with the DVD release of It Follows.  Director David Robert Mitchell reminds us what it is to skillfully develop and maintain tension, as opposed to the disposable thrills in Dolby Surround Sound that can be had so cheaply at the multiplex.  With It Follows, it's as much about the waiting for the dreaded thing as it is the actual confrontation with the mysterious presence that is passed from one young person to the next in a kind of very sinister tag.  Mitchell creates a palpable sense of dread and utilizes some haunting locations around the Detroit area (he's a native).  

Also recently added:  Kristin Wiig stars as a lonely woman who parlays a lottery jackpot into her own unusual talk show in WELCOME TO ME.  5 FLIGHTS UP offers the very likable pairing of Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman as a couple contemplating a move from their Brooklyn apartment.  A prison-bound Will Ferrell tries to get some survival tips from Kevin Hart in  GET HARD.  Al Pacino stars as an aging pop star in DANNY COLLINS.  Sean Penn is THE GUNMAN, on the run and revisiting the scene of one of his crimes.  CAMP X-RAY stars Kristen Stewart as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay.



Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright return as power couple Frank and Claire Underwood, now first couple of the land.  The ruthless Underwood (Frank) quickly discovers how uneasily lies the head that wears the crown as he launches into the first term of his presidency.  Thank heavens our real political situation is always so civilized and honorable....


Set during the tumultuous period of the colonization of America, New Worlds  focuses on four young characters trying to make their way on either side of the Atlantic.


Yes, irony.  The lanky Steven Merchant  (co-creator of the British version of The Office and Extras) is a web designer in Los Angeles, chasing beautiful women with, shall we say, something less than complete success.  

Also recently added:





Foreign Film


Winner of the Palm d'Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Winter Sleep is the latest from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan.  As usual, Bilge us up to serious business, examining the gap between the rich and poor, the powerful and powerless in contemporary Turkey.

Ceylan's films are usually striking,  if rather ponderous.  His work is not for all tastes, but patience and attention are certainly rewarded.  If you would like to see other films from one of the world's preeminent directors, we have two other examples:  ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA and THREE MONKEYS.  


A documentary of post-Holocaust generations examining their family histories, Farewell Herr Schwartz offers echoes of another documentary, THE FLAT.  In the case of Farewell Herr Schwartz, filmmaker Yael Reuvany discovered a strange family history in which two Jewish siblings managed to survive the Holocaust, only to be separated after the war.  Michla Schwartz moved to the soon-to-be-founded Jewish state of Israel, while her brother, Feiv'ke (assumed dead), almost inexplicably remained not far from the site of his suffering, marrying a German woman and living in what would become East Germany.  Farewell Herr Schwartz was the winner of the Best Documentary Prize at the Haifa International Film Festival.   


This the DVD release of the PBS American Masters profile of the sculptor best known as the inventor of the mobile, examples of whose exuberant work can be found all over Chicago, inside and out.