FILM NEXUS Vol. 2: St. Patrick’s Day Picks
There are people, currently walking among us, who do not care so much for traditional St. Patrick’s Day festivities such as wearing green, attending raucous parades, barhopping, and singing Pogues songs in various alleyways. I feel pity for these people, but respect their hesitation for staying in, it is really easy to understand when you are not able to hear your friends at crowded bars, or have to deal with the drunk and unruly strangers, and always live under the threat of being pinched because someone didn’t happen to notice your green striped socks. Luckily for these people, there is Netflix, even on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and although there is not a whole lot of selection of Irish films with their streaming service, the few that are available are pretty great.
Let me preface this selection by saying I was looking for films that dealt with Irish culture, made in Ireland, by Irish filmmakers or with predominantly Irish actors. While I love many of the films that explore the Irish-American experience, I often feel those films focus too heavily on criminality and do not represent enough of a full picture of Irish-American life, for every “In America,” the beautiful family portrait by Jim Sheridan, there are “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Boondock Saints,” and “State of Grace.” Also, these films are usually on heavily rotation on television in mid-March, anyway, and I hope your filmic voyage to the Emerald Isle will be full of more interesting experiences than something you can randomly tune into on TBS.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for his role as Irish writer Christy Brown in this Jim Sheridan film. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown’s left foot was the only part of his body where he was able to exert any control, and by using his foot, he was able to write some of the most interesting modern Irish literature, including his autobiography that this film was based on. This film could very well only have worked with Day-Lewis in the lead, who was so committed to his role, he would not feed himself while on the set. Besides Day-Lewis, the film is elevated by the fact it does not hide Brown was at times a cruel person, who was not humble about his talents at all, and lived a good part of his life as a selfish alcoholic. Like the film’s subject, the film is a complex work, and does not hide all the many ways genius explodes onto the world.
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
This sweet, small village set comedy, is about loyalty and friendship, just as much as it is about a conspiracy to fool a lottery official into believing the winner of a £6.8m prize did not die of shock when he realized he won, but is actually one of his still-living friends. The two masterminds of the plan are Jackie and Michael, two senior citizens who see a way for the whole town to benefit from their deception. One of the true highlights of this film is how it is able to show different members of the village grapple with the morality of the situation, and if taking their cut of the winnings is worth the risk of their neighbors going to jail. If I had to pick another great point of the film, it is the version of “The Parting Glass,” that plays at the end of the film.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
For a couple of years, I’ve been watching this film on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, both of which took place in the early 1920s, it stars Cillian Murphy as Damien, a man who gives up an education studying medicine to take up arms in the IRA against the British. This film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, forgoes many war (and at times, gangster) film clichés and staples, in order to show events in a realistic, and historically accurate manner. Many of the scenes, especially those that depict torture, are hard to watch, and Damien does horrendous things in the name of the cause, but this film informs the audience through its ability to make events that happened 90+ years ago visceral and real. This is definitely not a pick-me-up kind of film, but that does not mean there isn’t something uplifting in Ken Loach’s filmmaking, and the courage it took for the actors to portray such conflicted characters.
Some other great films to watch around St. Patrick’s Day are:
The Crying Game (1992)
Intermission (2004) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Hunger (2008) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Shane MacGowan: If I Should Fall From Grace (2003) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Also, if you want to go out, but don’t want to deal with the bars or crowds, Cinema Center will be open on March 17th, and would be excited if you chose to spend the holiday with us.
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director at Cinema Center and thinks “Down All the Days,” inspired by the work by Christy Brown, is an underrated Pogues song.
FILM NEXUS Vol. 1: Her
In an indistinctly near future, a heartbroken man sits in his cubicle and completes an assignment: dictating a love letter for a couple who have been happily married for fifty years. The irony of the man’s work is not lost on him. In fact, it is one of the driving forces that creates an environment of loneliness that creeps into every aspect of Theodore Twombly’s life in Spike Jonze’s amazing, and Oscar-winning, unconventional love story Her, coming to Cinema Center March 7th.
From that first scene that tells you just about everything about Theodore (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix), we understand completely why he would fall so head over heels in love with his artificially intelligent operating system Samantha, and in anyone’s hands other than Spike Jonze, the movie could have very well played like a bad joke. But it thankfully it doesn’t. The film cascades in emotions because its characters have either been numb for so long, or are just experiencing them for the first time. In many ways I think the film itself achieves something that Samantha is always on the verge of figuring out, it demonstrates a little bit of what it’s like to be human.
Her is one of the best head-scratching romances to come out in recent years but it is not the only one, and luckily most of us have made it through House of Cards by now and are looking for some films to fill up our instant watch lists . After experiencing Herat Cinema Center this weekend, go back home and watch some of these other great unconventional love stories available on Netflix streaming:
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Magnoliafeatures Adam Sandler in one of his most volatile, and sympathetic, roles as Barry, a novelty toilet plunger salesman whose one shot at romantic happiness is threatened by an extortionist phone sex operator and his seven sisters. Barry is a creature completely governed by his impulses, at one moment he is sweet and paralyzed by loneliness and in the next he is loud, confrontational, and capable of violence. It is Sandler’s performance, as well as the emotional abuse Barry receives from his sisters, that lets the audience feel okay about cheering him on in his quest for Lena, an English woman he barely knows but deeply loves. The film is elevated by great supporting performances by Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour-Hoffman.
Let the Right One In (2008)
This Swedish film could very well be about the first time someone falls in love, only for 12-year old Oskar, the object of his affection happens to be a vampire. Though the film finds itself occasionally its vampire horror film trappings, the central relationship between Oskar and Eli, the forever child vampire, is at the center of this moving film. Oskar is a bullied and lonely kid, until he meets Eli, and we applaud as Oskar grows as a result of being close to someone who is both strong and wise. Yes, the film gets very bloody and very gory, but it also has moments of great tenderness, and demonstrates the depths one will go for love, more so than I have seen in any film, horror, or otherwise.
Lost In Translation (2003)
Is there such a thing as platonic romance? This film by Sofia Coppola makes it seem as though that is possible as Bill Murray’s Bob and Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte bond over a couple of nights in Tokyo. Bob is an aging actor, tired from life and having to make money by doing commercials for Suntory Whisky, while Charlotte is newly married to a photographer who gives his work more attention than her. They find each other in hotel elevators, hotel bars, and eventually in each other’s rooms, but the film is more interested in the differences between the generations the two characters come from and what they can teach other, than in any possibility for romantic entanglements, even though those desires are below the surface and almost come rushing out in one moment of anger later in the film. The naturalistic performances are enough to make the friendship believable, and the cinematography (sometimes guerilla-style) and soundtrack add to feeling we are just sitting in the same room as the relationship between these characters grows.
Some other great unconventional love stories to check out on Netflix are:
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Beauty and the Beast Television Series (1987) See Ron Pearlman before he put on his biker jacket in Sons of Anarchy or the make-up in Hellboy!
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director at Cinema Center and Her was his favorite movie of the year.
“A Kong-sized memory” by Kathy Bock
Tue, Aug 20 2013 09:28
This coming Saturday, August 24th, at 10 p.m., Cinema Center (in cooperation with Shaffer Multimedia) will offer a free screening of the classic movie King Kong (1933) on the front of the Arts United Center building. For Kathy Bock, this outdoor venue brings back a fond movie memory.
One summer night when I was about 6, I saw the classic movie King Kong (1933) outdoors under the
stars. It wasn’t at a drive-in theater, though. Let me explain with a little story.
stars. It wasn’t at a drive-in theater, though. Let me explain with a little story.
Back in those days (the 1960s), my parents rented a small cottage on Corey Lake in Michigan where we spent our summers. I loved it there — swimming, skiing, fishing for bluegill…doing all the fun things people do at a lake. But for my family and our lake gang, the real excitement of summer happened on the weekends, when Jack Cronk blew in.
I say “blew in” because Jack always arrived in swirling cloud of dust. I can still see his sparkly, green-finned convertible roaring down the dirt road toward our cottage every Friday night, signaling the official start of the weekend.
Although he wasn’t a large man, Jack was larger than life. He was big-hearted, adventurous, and did everything on a grand scale. Instead of just lighting a grill like a normal person, for instance, Jack would pull out a fire-breathing blowtorch that made all the women scream and the dogs run like hyenas for cover.
But I digress. One night, King Kong was being shown on TV, and Jack decided the whole gang should watch it together, outside by the old apple tree. (Was this even possible? My young brain could hardly fathom the idea of TV al fresco.) But Jack hauled out a portable black & white TV set and placed it on top of a small pop shed. (In hindsight, I realize the actual name of this structure, which housed a large refrigerator, was probably “beer shed,” but hey, I was 6. I had other priorities.)
Anyway, Jack did some fiddling with the TV’s rabbit ears and voilà, a young girl was suddenly transported across the ocean to the fictional Skull Island in search of a giant ape named Kong. I was mesmerized. The ominous drumming, the suspenseful music (by Max Steiner), the groundbreaking stop-motion animation (by Willis O’Brien), the masterful storytelling — it all worked its magic on me.
But I can’t underestimate the power of the venue that night. For me, one of the reasons that movie was so memorable has to do with the circumstances under which I saw it: I was outdoors, surrounded by family and friends, in the dark of night. This wasn’t just a movie — it was an event.
Jack Cronk, like the promoter Carl Denham in King Kong, understood the power of spectacle. He knew this movie was too big to be seen on a small screen. And while he couldn’t enlarge his TV set for us, he did the next best thing. He made our “theater” as big and wondrous as possible. There was popcorn (and undoubtedly beer) as a small group of friends formed a semicircle of lawn chairs to watch this classic tale of beauty and the beast, inexplicably framed by the beauty of a Michigan night sky.
This was movie magic, pure and simple, and I’ll never forget it. And now you have a chance to experience it, too. This coming Saturday, August 24th, as part of Taste of the Arts, Cinema Center will show King Kong for free at 10 p.m. across the front of the Arts United Center building. Grab your lawn chairs, folks, and come on down.
If you’ve never seen the original King Kong before (or even if you have), I can’t imagine a better way to watch it now. Many of the best scenes are set outdoors at night, making an outdoor night venue the perfect way to experience this film. And don’t forget, this is a movie about a gigantic 25-foot ape. Doesn’t he deserve to be seen on the big screen? (Seriously, you may never get another chance. I’ve been waiting 50 years for this one!)
If you come, I promise you the experience will be something you’ll remember all your life. And you know I’ll be there, giggling like a kid over the size of Kong’s head, and remembering with great respect the man who first introduced me to the magic of movies one dark summer night a long time ago, on a small flickering screen.
I’ll save a seat for you, Jack.
|Jack Cronk in front of the old pop shed.|
Kathy Bock is a freelance advertising copywriter, Cinema Center board member, and chair of the Events committee. She’s seen all the remakes of King Kong but still prefers the original, which she’s watched too many times to mention (including a weeklong “kong-athon” when the two-disc Collector’s Edition came out in 2005 and she hardly slept). Kathy has never seen the film on the big screen and is praying that it doesn’t rain on Saturday.
"The Gift" by Ruth Langhinrichs
Tue, Aug 13 2013 01:45
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Thank you, Cinema Center. Words, however, are not thanks enough. Neither is the most creative of fund raisers. Or the most well-written of grants. Or even the most successful of impromptu appeals for a necessary item of equipment. Let's express our gratitude and delight in the gifts of Cinema Center with our continuous financial support and planned giving.
[Although Cinema Center has met the initial goal for the Digital Projector Fund, you can still donate to help cover additional costs associated with the update as well as ongoing improvement of the facilities.]
Ruth Langhinrichs, a founding board member, has been a Cinema Center supporter for 37 years. She's also a friend of Kathy Bock who challenged her to write a Haiku to sum up her feelings about Cinema Center.
"Cinema Center Strikes Back" by Jonah Crismore
Tue, Jul 23 2013 09:54
If the different acts of my life played out like a movie, some of the best scenes would have happened at Cinema Center. There have been scenes that provided a nice surprise twist, such as the time my wife and I attended a screening of what we thought would be Lonesome Jim, but because of misreading the show times were instead treated with Joyeux Noel, a multi-language, World War I-set Christmas film. It has become one of our favorites. It is also the type of film we could have only seen at Cinema Center.
There have been soaring highs, such as the time I saw Duck Soup for the first time, much too late in my life (probably my late teens) at a comedy film festival at Cinema Center, and there have been devastating lows—I am still trying to recover from Blue Valentine.
For me, film is not a way to pass a couple of hours, and I will never identify with those who claim going to the movies is just a good escape. When I am truly honest with myself, I do not even feel film is a popular art form, no matter what my brain may be saying. Everything I experience is through the prism of how it would work in a movie. As far as I am concerned, with no sense of irony or hyperbole, film is life.
Sometimes I wonder if it is a life that I have chosen, but I would prefer it to have chosen me. And, I believe fully that it began to choose me as a teenager going to films at Cinema Center, watching movies I was probably not quite experienced enough to understand, and being exposed to a far wider world that I had no idea existed.
It is true I have always enjoyed films and the experience of watching them in a theater with my fellow cineastes. The first film I can remember seeing in a theater was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and I left it with two inescapable loves: time travel stories and going to the movies. But as I got older, it was at Cinema Center screenings where I have felt inspired to go out and be part of the act of making films.
Without Cinema Center, I would not have attended film school, an endeavor that would take my wife and me all over the country, and return to the place it all began, on the corner of Clay Street and Berry. If I was instructing my screenwriting students, I would say this is the point where the story should end, that balance has returned and the protagonist (me) is much better off than when the story began. I wasn’t lying; I look at everything in relation to how it would play out in a film.
I am much better off than when I left to attend film school in Chicago. I now have the best job in the city. I actually get paid to bring films, important works that would otherwise not be seen in the area, to my home community. But, the story cannot end there. The film industry is changing, and during this first year at the helm of Cinema Center, I have had to deal with the reality that the theater must convert to digital projection in order to remain open.
If we do not make this conversion other young men and women will not have that special place in the community where they can experience films that move them, that inspire them to pick up a camera and start shooting. They will not fall in love with Wong Kar-wai films on the big screen, or learn a little more about everyday life with Woody Allen, or be exposed to the greats who have been long gone such as Ford, Welles, Pickford, and Hitchcock.
If we go back to the assertion that film is life, think of this next stage for Cinema Center as its sequel of sorts. And, this time, you have a chance to play a large role in making sure this sequel is even better than the original.
Help Cinema Center go digital by donating to the Digital Projector Fund today.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center's Executive Director and has hopes of someday being an advisor to the restoration of any of Orson Welles' many lost films.