Watership Down

criterion_watership-phpWatership Down is the animated movie adaption of Richard Adams’ timeless novel.

The film opens with the mythology of the rabbits. When the sun god, Lord Frith created the world, all the animals grazed on grass. The rabbits quickly multiplied, eating everything in sight. The sun god warned the king of the rabbits, who dismissed the sun god saying his rabbits were the strongest of all the animals. In retaliation, the sun god made the other animals predators with the rabbits being their food. But the sun god bestowed speed and cunning upon the rabbits to give them a fighting chance.

The main story concerns Fiver, a runt of a rabbit, who is a seer and has prophetic visions of his warren’s destruction. His warnings go unheeded by the Chief Rabbit so Fiver and his brother Hazel leave the warren with six other rabbits to establish a new warren. Their journey has many perils in the form of dogs, foxes, badgers, even other rabbits. In fact, other rabbits seem to be the worst enemy of Fiver, Hazel and their companions, particularly General Woundwart.

Despite being animated, this is not a children’s movie. There are many violent, disturbing images and lots of blood. The world of Watership Down is perilous; the predators and other enemies of the rabbits are numerous and there is a palpable sense of fear running throughout the movie. Perhaps most disturbing is the rabbit-on-rabbit violence, which can be taken as a metaphor for human-on-human violence.

Worth a look if you like adventure stories about anthropomorphized rabbits striving to survive in a harsh world.

Skip it if images of cute bunnies maiming and killing each other will upset you.

As an added bonus, the library’s copy is a Criterion Collection release.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Watership Down

– Steve

Cerebral Movies: The Congress

MV5BMjE5MTUzNDk3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUwNTQ5MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_The Congress is the story of an aging actress (Robin Wright, ostensibly playing herself) who is given a last-chance contract: the studio will scan her emotions and physical presence.  She will remain forever young when her scanned likeness is used in movies, but she herself cannot appear in any movie or play for the length of her 20-year contract.

Wright reluctantly signs the contract, partially because she knows it might be her last chance at continued stardom and partially because she needs the money to treat her chronically ill son.

The movie jumps ahead 20 years to the expiration of her contract. Wright shows up at the animated Abrahama, the illusory animated world created by the Miramount Nagasaki corporation At this point the movie shifts from being live action to animation. Wright is animated as an attractive elderly woman, but no one recognizers her because the Miramount Nagasaki corporation owns her likeness, which has been turned into a international superstar but is perpetually 33 years old.

In the preceding 20 years, the Miramount Nagasaki corporation have made advances in chemistry allowing them to turn Wright’s scanned likeness into a chemical formula, which may be ingested by individuals. It is the next step in the evolution of cinema: each person has their own private, self-generated illusory world (represented by animation.)

But the illusory world is not as wonderful as it seems: rebels soon invade and disrupt Abrahama. This intrusion allows Wright to break free from the animated illusion and allows her to ultimately transit back to the real world, witnessing firsthand how the chemicals have actually enslaved humanity.

The Congress explores the nature of reality. It also poses the question, is it better to be free and see reality for what it truly is in all it’s unvarnished horror?  Or is it better to be trapped in an illusion where everyone is happy, but enslaved? The Matrix and Dark City explored these same themes.

The Congress is not a perfect movie; it can be hard to follow in spots and does not make sense in some places. But overall, it is a thought-provoking movie and an interesting meditation on the nature of reality.

Worth a look if you like mind bending, cerebral movies which make you think.

Skip it if you like coherent, easy-to-follow story lines.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

The Congress

– steve

Life Itself

MV5BMTQ2OTQzMjcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2Njk3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Life Itself is a documentary which details the life of movie critic Roger Ebert, who passed away in 2013.

Ebert was one of those who found his calling early in life. By the time he was 15, he was publishing and distributing his own newspaper. He later went to work for the local newspaper. By the end of the 1960s, Ebert had been appointed as movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.

The movie spends a lot of time chronicling Ebert’s stormy relationship with fellow film critic and “professional nemesis” Gene Siskel.   Siskel worked for the Chicago Tribune, a rival to Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times. The two collaborated on a PBS television show, in which they reviewed movies. The two were professional rivals, and on mostly civil terms, but often disagreed vehemently on movies; neither was shy about stating his respective opinion. This made for interesting television. By the time Siskel died in 1999 from complications from brain cancer, the two seemed to have developed mutual respect, even if they differed in their views.

Ebert was one of the most popular American film critics. He preferred a relativistic reviewing style, grouping movie reviews by looking at the audience they were made for.  Highbrow movies (read “Oscar bait”) were compared to other highbrow movies; popular movies would be compared other popular movies. This view gave a better indication of whether a viewer would like a particular movie or not.

The film can be hard to watch. Ebert lost most of his lower jaw and throat to cancer and had to be fed through a tube inserted into a hole in what was left of his trachea. Still, losing his jaw and his speaking voice did not silence him. He embraced blogging, posting movie reviews right up to his death in 2013.

Essential viewing if you love movies.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Life Itself

– Steve





Under the Radar Movies: What If

MV5BMTcyODc4Njg4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDIwNDA4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_What If is a delightful rom-com starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. The story has been done to death before: “boy meets girl; girl has long-time boyfriend; boy  and girl become become “only” friends; boy and girl realize that they are meant for each other.” But smart dialog, good performances and great chemistry between the two leads raises this above a normal cliched rom-com.

Radcliffe plays Wallace, a man burned out on relationships and has ostensibly given up on them. He meets Chantry (played by Zoe Kazan) and they have an instant bond, but Chantry already has a long-time, live-in boyfriend. The two decide to be “just friends.”

Predictably, Wallace  and Chantry become interested in each other more than either want to admit. The plot does contain stock rom-com tropes, but Zazan’s and Radcliffe’s performances and smart dialog elevate this above the normal rom-com fare.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

What If

Even if you hate rom-coms, it is worth a look for the good performances and great chemistry between the two leads.

Skip it if you can’t Radcliffe as anyone else other than Harry Potter.

– Steve



MV5BMjQwNTI2MTA0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc1NzkzMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Rudderless is the story of Sam (played by Billy Crudup) whose son dies in school shooting. Sam goes from being  a successful, highly-paid advertising executive to living on a boat and painting houses.

Through happenstance, Sam discovers a box of his son’s recorded songs. He listens to them and begins to learn them, eventually working up the courage to play one of them at an open mic in a  local dive bar.

Sam catches the attention of Quentin (played by Anton Yelchin) who is about the same age as Sam’s son would have been. Quentin is a local small-time musician and is duly impressed with the song Sam had played. Quentin wants Sam to form a band, and after some considerable pestering, Sam relents. Soon after, two more musicians join the band, which achieves some local success playing the songs written by Sam’s deceased son. Unfortunately, Sam does not initially inform his band members of the source of the songs.

A startling revelation in latter third of the movie forces the viewer to look at the circumstances of Sam, his son, and Quentin in a different light. The revelation darkens the tone of an otherwise uplifting movie about a father coming to grips with the death of his son.

Rudderless is the first film directed by William H. Macy (who also as a small supporting role in the movie). A stunning debut, and hints at great things to come.

The songs in the movie stand out; they are catchy, funny and poignant, sometimes all at once. Crudup and Yelchin give credible musical performances.

Rounding out the cast is Laurence Fishburne as a music-store owner.

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Worth a look if you like movies about music.

Skip it if school shootings upset you.

– Steve








MV5BMTU4OTQ3MDUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTA2MjU0MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Whiplash at its core is about greatness and the lengths that ambitious people will go to achieve it.

On the one hand, there is Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for the role. He truly deserved it as he delivers an electrifying performance. Fletcher, a brilliant but nefarious instructor,  leads the jazz band at one of the country’s best conservatories. He drives his students hard to achieve greatness. He is looking for the next Charlie Parker and will do anything to bring this out in a student. Often, he crosses the line with verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

On the other hand, there is Andrew (played by Miles Teller.) He is ambitious and talented. He is a student and wants to achieve greatness in jazz drumming, but lacks focus. His hero is Charlie “Bird” Parker, a giant among jazz musicians. (Parker unfortunately died a drug addict at the age of 35.)

Fletcher discovers Andrew one day after hearing him perform with another band at the conservatory. Fletcher senses greatness in Andrew and invites him to play in the most prestigious band ensemble in the school. Almost immediately, Fletcher starts to berate Andrew. He goads Andrew, pushing him to the limit with insults and physical assaults.  He capriciously replaces Andrew with other drummers to make him work harder to keep his position in the band.

The movie is stark and brutal in its depiction of Fletcher trying to bring out greatness in Andrew using extreme methods; at times it’s hard to watch. Andrew puts up with abuse because he senses greatness in himself and feels that only by pushing himself will he be able to achieve greatness. But pushing himself too hard eventually costs him: his hands bleed from practicing his drumming for extended periods; he gets into a car wreck because he is frantic to make a performance. (His hand is so banged up from the accident that he fails the performance miserably as he can’t hold onto the drum stick.) He breaks up with his girlfriend because he believes that she will only hold him back and even come to resent him for placing his dream of greatness ahead of her.

Whiplash is a fascinating (if brutal) look into greatness and the lengths that people will go to and the abuse that they will endure to achieve it. The movie is non-committal as to whether browbeating and/or abuse is the best way to bring out greatness in a performer. The film ultimately leaves this up to the viewer.

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Worth a look for a fascinating look into jazz, and what it takes to excel in that world.

Skip it if you are sensitive to verbal and physical brutality.

– Steve



A Walk Among the Tombstones

MV5BMTQ3NzY2MTg1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY2Njk4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Based on the 1992 mystery novel by author Lawrence Block,  A Walk Among the Tombstones concerns the adventures of former-New-York-City-cop-turned-unlicensed-private-detective Matt Scudder.  Scudder is an alcoholic who let his drinking impair his judgement while on the job with the NYPD which resulted in his dismissal.

Block as written 17 novels with Scudder as the protagonist, and are well worth seeking out if you like gritty crime novels.

As A Walk Among the Tombstones begins, the brother of a wealthy drug dealer contacts Scudder hoping that he will look into a problem. Against his better judgment, Scudder goes to see the drug dealer. It seems as though someone kidnapped his wife, demanding a ransom. The drug dealer negotiated the ransom, paid it but found his wife cut up in bags in the trunk of a car. The drug dealer wants Scudder to find the person or persons responsible in order to exact revenge.

Scudder reluctantly looks into the case. He is conflicted about helping a drug dealer, but wants to exact justice for the murdered wife. As he gets deeper and deeper into the case, he comes to a startling realization: the kidnappers are targeting criminals who are unlikely to involve the police. Furthermore, the kidnappers are sadistic; torturing their victims for sick thrills before killing them.

Things come to a head when the kidnappers abduct the teenage daughter of a Russian drug dealer. Scudder (again reluctantly) becomes involved to get the daughter back before she is tortured and killed.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is a taught psychological thriller which relies on suspense rather than mindless action or shooting sequences. Scudder is a damaged man, an alcoholic who lost his job because of drinking on duty. Despite this major flaw, Scudder is a good PI who solves his cases through information rather than shooting. In fact, by helping those in need, Scudder may even be seeking redemption.

Worth a look if you like hard-boiled PI stories or film noir.

Skip it if torture and violence make you queasy.

Click on the following link to place a hold on the DVD:

A Walk Among the Tombstones (DVD)

Click on the following link to place a hold on the novel:

A Walk Among the Tombstones (novel)