Friday, August 29, 2008

Foreign films: The Valet and The Band’s Visit

I love foreign films! In fact you could probably call me a foreign film snob. I love watching movies that have no familiar faces in them; where people don’t act, look, talk, walk, etc. like I do. Anything unfamiliar is good. One reason I love movies is to get out of my own life, to broaden my horizons, to see the world, to pretend for a couple of hours and foreign films are generally better at providing all of this than are American films.

Two good foreign films I’ve watched lately are The Valet (French) and The Band’s Visit (Egyptian/Israeli).

The Valet is from the master of French farce, Francis Veber. It is a comedy of errors where the rich guy, in trouble with his wife, gets a valet to live with his supermodel mistress to prove that he’s been faithful. Very funny!

The Band’s Visit
I had been looking forward to this one & it was well worth the wait. An Egyptian police orchestra ends up in a desolate Israeli village & has to depend on the locals for help. It is a quiet film & doesn’t have as much music as I expected (what music it had was fabulous) but the people from the 2 countries came together: they touched each other in ways beneficial to both. It was indeed “a global charmer!” (Lisa Schwarzbaum—Entertainment Weekly) I loved it!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shall We Dance? (1996)

Ok. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the 2004 American version (with Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon), but it was just a good movie. Shall We Dance?, the Japanese version from 1996 (available upon request at Bethlehem library), is a great film. The story is about a man who is bored with his life. As he rides the train home from work every night he sees a woman looking out the window of a dance studio. Her face looks as sad as he feels. So in a spur-of-the-moment decision he decides to hop off the train and do whatever it takes to meet this woman. What it takes is that he has to take dancing lessons. But more than that, he has to care more about dancing than he does about this mysterious woman. Meanwhile, back at home, his wife is beginning to worry that her husband has a mistress so she hires a private detective. The detectives and some of the other dancers provide most of the humor in the film, of which there is plenty. The man and his mysterious dance partner provide the drama, the interest, the humanity. The story is wonderful; all of the characters are appealing and sympathetic; and it’s set in Japan where although its culture is different than ours, maybe their lives are more similar to ours than we might have thought. I think that’s why it translated so well and easily to an American audience leading to an American version. The dancing is fantastic as are the costumes. This is a beautiful film and I truly hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t seen it already.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This week on the new book truck

Our vender has been very slow with deliveries lately so all the other libraries have received the newest movies and we haven’t. Well, much to my delight, at least some of them came this week so I have a nice crop to report on in the blog.

Caramel is a Lebanese film. I saw it in the theatres, and in fact reported on it earlier in my blog (June 17). I wasn’t crazy about the film but the reason I went to see it was because it was Lebanese and I’ve never seen a Lebanese film before. In that respect, it didn’t disappoint. There was little story but being able to look at the city (Beirut), the people, and to see what their lives are like is always interesting.

Drillbit Taylor. This is a comedy with the ever-lovable Owen Wilson playing a bodyguard to some bullied high school kids.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I also saw this one in the theatre and it was terrific! Frances McDormand in the title role, is a down-on-her-luck nanny who wanders into a job as social secretary to a young starlet. She sets about putting the young ladies’ life in order and finds a new life for herself at the same time. A total winner!

One Missed Call. This horror film starring Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon is a remake of a Japanese film. The plot as described by is: People mysteriously start receiving voicemail messages from their future selves, in the form of the sound of them reacting to their own violent deaths. Sounds pretty grim. Not for the faint at heart.

Project Runway, the Complete Second Season. Ok, I admit it, I’m a huge fan of Project Runway. I love watching these creative people making clothing. The win-lose ordeal is rather nerve-wracking but the fashions they come up with are amazing! This is the second season which I heard someone say was the best. I’ll let you know after I watch it.

Sleepwalking. This is a family drama starring Nick Stahl as a young man who is stuck with his 11 year old niece when she is deserted by her mother. Can he stop “sleepwalking” through life and do the right thing? Watch it and find out.

Smart People
is a dysfunctional family comedy. When a widowed professor falls in love with a former student his life is turned upside down. That’s only the beginning though. Much wackiness ensues when his freeloading brother and his smart-mouthed daughter arrive. This is a lighthearted comedy which is smart and enjoyable.

Stop-Loss. Decorated Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. He tries to resume the life he left behind. Then, against Brandon's will, the Army orders him back to duty in Iraq, which upends his world. The conflict tests everything he believes in: the bond of family, the loyalty of friendship, the limits of love and the value of honor. (Written by Paramount Pictures). The film stars Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Street Kings.
This film is “a full-throttle thrill ride” says someone. That’s exactly what you expect in a Keanu Reeves film. This is a crime thriller in which “a veteran cop finds himself ensnared in a deadly web of conspiracy and betrayal.” Also starring are Forest Whitaker and Hugh Laurie (Dr. House? In a cop film? I’ve got to see that!)

Put your requests in now. Everyone wants to see the latest films and the sooner you request it, the sooner you’ll be able to see it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Toronto Film Festival

The Toronto Film Festival (TIFF-- is quickly approaching. It will run from September 4th to the 13th. There are so many films showing there that it is mind-boggling. I looked through the list of all the titles and recognized some names of directors. Those of us who won’t be attending the festival will have to wait to see their new films in the theatres, but in the meantime, we can stay home and watch some of their older films.

The Coen brothers will be showing their new film Burn After Reading which is scheduled for theatrical release in September. While waiting for that one, why not try:
Fargo, Ladykillers, or No Country For Old Men.

Jonathan Demme who directed The Manchurian Candidate (2004), Who Am I This time?, and Neil Young : Heart of Gold has a new one entitled Rachel Getting Married.

Spike Lee’s new movie is Miracle at St. Anna but now you can watch 25th Hour, Inside Man and When the Levees Broke.

Mike Leigh, one of my favorite British directors, is showing his new film Happy-Go-Lucky. Here at the library you can check out All or Nothing or Vera Drake.

Richard Linklater, a very productive young director, has made School of Rock, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Bad News Bears and A Scanner Darkly and will be showing at TIFF his new one Me and Orson Welles.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles of The Constant Gardener fame will be showing his new one, Blindness.

Paul Schrader who just came out with The Walker will be showing Adam Resurrected at TIFF.

Kevin Smith, one of my favorites, director of Jersey Girl and Clerks II has a new one: Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Stephen Soderbergh who made a splash at Cannes with his film Che will try again at TIFF. In the meantime, you can watch his films Ocean’s eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen, Bubble, Traffic and The Good German.

And finally, Michael Winterbottom of The Road to Guantanamo, Code 46, Tristram Shandy and A Mighty Heart is showing his new one, Genova.

Make yourself some popcorn, pull up a comfy chair and think of all the gas money you're saving by staying at home, checking out some DVDs from the library and enjoying some oldies but goodies.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brideshead Revisited

A review from our magnificent webmistress, Judie Harren:

Having loved the book, I was determined to see this movie at the theater where the dark room and large screen would allow me to get lost in the story and the rich settings. I was not disappointed. Like Charles, the main character, I was in awe of the huge estate of his Oxford friend Sebastian and intrigued by the family and their complex agendas. Lady Marchmain, the strong-willed ruler of the family was beautifully played by Emma Thompson surrounded by a great cast throughout. It was a powerful and moving drama and a beautiful film to watch. Recommended for fans of historical literature.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

At the movies: Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight, and Tell No One

I’ve been to the movie theatre a few times lately. I saw: Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight, and Tell No One.

Mamma Mia was lots of fun and was very energetic! I felt a little exhausted myself after leaving the theatre. I knew that Meryl Streep could sing after seeing her in Prairie Home Companion. Here she was singing, dancing and running up and down lots of steps (the Greek isles are very hilly). She in fact, was never still for even a moment. The story is of the wedding of a young woman who is fatherless. She has invited the 3 men her mother had had affairs with before her birth assuming that one of them is indeed her father. She hasn’t told her mother she has invited them so when they inexplicably show up the fun starts!

The Dark Knight
I was disappointed in this film. I know that I am not one of the target audience (this film was definitely not aimed at middle aged women!). I didn’t grow up reading superhero comic books, nor is having super powers in among my many daydreams. So maybe I just don’t get it. I found the film cold; without any sensitivity or humanity whatever. It was full of some really great car wrecks, car chases and explosions. But just having Christian Bale in his Batman costume standing on a roof with the night sky behind him is not enough to get me to feel his angst or to get me to sympathize with him. It just left me cold. I didn’t care about him or anyone else in the movie and wondered why I had spent my time and money to go to this film. Well, the big reason I did was to see Heath Ledger one last time. I’m a big fan of his, my favorites being 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale. He’s a terrific romantic hero. And in this film he was a terrific Joker. He totally embodied the character of the Joker: his body, his voice, his face—he was the Joker. It was an incredible performance but I’m so sorry this is the last film Heath Ledger made. I hope it’s not the one he is most remembered for not because he wasn’t great but because the film wasn’t great. Even his performance wasn’t enough to win over this film for me.

Tell No One

This French film was made from the novel by Harlan Coben. The story is: a young doctor’s wife is kidnapped, possibly murdered. Fast forward 8 years and two bodies have been found at the sight of the kidnapping. The doctor is the prime suspect in the case. At the same time, the doctor begins receiving cryptic emails suggesting that his wife is still alive. So the doctor has the police after him as well as some bad guys (he doesn’t know who they are) while he is trying to find his wife and trying to figure out what exactly happened 8 years ago. It’s an exciting story that grabs and holds your interest. As opposed to The Dark Knight, you care about everyone in this film. It is filmed in and around Paris and takes you into the worlds of the rich, the criminal, and the ordinary. This is a film I recommend without reservation.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Long Way Round

Last weekend I happened to be channel surfing and ran into the TV program Long Way Round. It is the videologue of a motorcycle trip made by Ewen McGregor and his mate Charlie Boorman, around the world, from London east to New York. I knew that we had the DVD here at the library but I hadn’t watched it even though it had been recommended to me. After watching it on TV for a very short while my son and I were hooked! Ewen and Charlie are wonderful hosts: they are so friendly, respectful of each other and of everyone they meet, and have such joy for life that you want to come along for the ride. They travel through Europe very quickly eager to get on to more remote areas: the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. They then fly to Alaska and make a quick trip of Canada and the U.S. They meet a lot of people along the way; indulge in some interesting cuisine; soak up as much culture as they can and do a little sight-seeing. Mostly though, it’s about the bike. They have planned a very tight schedule so there isn’t much time to spare in any one given place so as a travel show you might be disappointed. They ride right by places that you find yourself saying “Stop here! I wanna see what that is!” They do see a number of wonderful places though; plus they keep reminding us that it’s about the bike. It’s about the bike and it’s about friendship.

They re-ran the entire program on TV to get you primed for their new series: Long Way Down where Ewen and Charlie ride from John O’Groats, Scotland to South Africa. We watched the first episode of this one and it looks like another great adventure. To catch the TV version of Long Way Down go to:
You can check out Long Way Round here at the library.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New at VPL!

Every Thursday evening we put out our new items. This week on the new book truck we have the following DVD’s:

The Band’s Visit

I can’t wait to see this one. It’s about an Egyptian police band that makes a wrong turn on their way to a gig at the Arab Cultural Center in Israel. They end up in a desolate Israeli village where they mingle with the common people. They refer to this as a “cross-cultural comedy” and it sounds just delicious to me!

The Counterfeiters

I saw this one in the theaters and it was very good. In fact it won the Academy Award for best foreign film. This is the story of a “specialist” who is picked up by the Nazis and put in a concentration camp where they order him to counterfeit money to aid in the war effort.

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay—

It’s Harold & Kumar back (only very recently) from their last adventure. Now they are full of burgers and on the way to Amsterdam, but end up in trouble again! If you loved their first movie you may or may not love this one. I liked the first movie but found this one just too silly and not particularly amusing.

Nim’s Island—

From the book by Wendy Orr, this is the story of a young girl who lives on a remote island and communicates with the author of the book she is reading. This is a kid’s picture but stars Jodie Foster and Gerald Butler so if you’re a fan you might want to catch this one.

Shine a Light—

Martin Scorsese’s behind-the-scenes look at the Rolling Stones. With concert footage and band clips as well as celebrity interviews this film is “Phenomenal” (Stephen Holden, NYT), and “Explosive” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stones). Sounds like a good one!

Under the Same Moon—

This Spanish film is a story of courage as a young mother leaves her son to go to America to find a better life while the son, finds himself in unfortunate circumstances and must make his own way to his mother. This movie will touch your heart.


Director Paul Schrader made some great pictures back in the day (American Gigolo, Affliction) but we haven’t heard much from him lately. Walker is a political thriller/mystery in a scandal ridden Washington, D.C. Sounds good to me!