My Account
You are here:  Home Staff Picks Blog

Staff Picks Blog

Archive for the ‘Movies & Documentaries’ Category


by Anne on February 27th, 2012
Wings Cover Image

Last night, The Artist captured Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Do you know when the last silent film took home that Oscar? 1929 (the year of the first Academy Awards); Wings was the winner.  I’ve been stumbling across this fact in the majority of Oscar coverage and, as luck would have it, a restored version of Wings was released this year on DVD.

Wings‘ plot is a twist on the familiar boy meets girl story.  In Wings, a boy falls in love with a girl, but she is in love with someone else, but there is another girl who is in love with the first boy.  It’s not important. Wings has something better than plot: World War I fighter pilot action.  And no CGI. They mounted the cameras on planes for all the flight scenes. The director, William Wellman, was also a WWI fighter pilot and used his experiences to recreate action.  It also has star power. The film stars one of the most famous actresses from the silent era, Clara Bow.  It also features a very young Gary Cooper, but not for very long (I’ve said too much).


Page One: Inside the New York Times

by Anne on December 27th, 2011
Page One: Inside the New York Times Cover Image

Is the newspaper dead?  This question underlies the film Page One: Inside the New York Times.  The documentary opens with news clips and headlines of the Rocky Mountain News ceasing publication, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishing exclusively online, and the Tribune company bleeding cash and staff.  At a time of decreasing circulation (as more people get news online), where does a storied institution like the New York Times fit in the new media landscape?

Although it is a scary time for newspapers, it is also an exciting time, especially if you work at the Media Desk at the New York Times. Page One follows the Times‘ media reporters for a full year as they cover the current state of traditional media and the emergence of new players.  It is an interesting year too: WikiLeaks emerges, Comcast purchases a controlling interest in NBC, the Tribune goes bankrupt, and the NY Times is deciding whether or not to charge their online readers.

The documentary is a little choppy and its structure needed a little work, but I came away thinking about the future of news, which was the point. Plus, you should see the film just to watch David Carr.




The Parking Lot Movie

by Anne on October 31st, 2011
The Parking Lot Movie Cover Image

There are documentaries about anything and everything. There is a documentary about a 12-year girl who wants to make a zombie movie. Pulling John takes a look at world arm wrestling champ John Brzenk as he decides whether to defend his championship title or retire.  And The Parking Lot Movie follows the parking lot attendants of the Corner Parking Lot, a small piece of land located behind some shops and bars near the University of Virginia campus.  However, these documentaries are rarely about their surface subject matter. The Parking Lot Movie is about more than a parking lot.

The pool of attendants and former attendants consist of grad students, artists, musicians (including the bassist from Yo La Tengo), and post-grads not sure what to do next. They come from the philosophy, anthropology, law, and religion departments of Virginia.  According to their manager, it is only a parking lot.  All they have to do is take the payment from the drivers.  It isn’t that simple. Day in and day out, they argue with people over a few dollars, fight against drive-offs, and protect the lot and the cars from inebriated college students. They are often called names and told to get a real job.  They experience boredom, anger, and burnout.

We’ve all been there. Most of us have worked in that kind of job, where pay is low, tasks are repetitive, and your patience is tried.  Although they are hard to face each day, these jobs build character and a sense of self.  At least the parking lot attendants seems to see the job as important to who they are now. Because the parking lot was more to them than just a business.  It was a way to reevaluate one’s self and values as one watches the problem’s of society play out on a small scale.  As one attendant says, “It was a lens of looking at the entire life experience through the parking lot.”



Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

by Anne on September 23rd, 2011
Anton Chekhov’s The Duel Cover Image

Maybe Laevsky, a gambling, reckless, and often inebriated civil service worker, didn’t have a plan when he ran away with Nadya, a married woman, to the Caucasus.  I’m not sure if marriage, a family, or tending to the land was ever in Laesky’s mind.  What’s important is that Laevsky has no intention to do any of those things now, especially with Nadya.  When a letter arrives informing him that Nadya’s husband is dead, he needs a way out.  Unfortunately, he does not have the funds to leave town and there is the issue of Van Koren.  A scholar and moralist, Van Koren dislikes Laevsky and his influence on the town.  There is more drinking, gambling, and improper behavior among the town’s inhabitants since he arrived.  Also, Nadya has flirted, teased, and acted inappropriately with several men in town. When Laevsky insults a mutual friend over borrowing money to leave, it is too much for Van Koren.  A challenge is accepted.

The Duel is beautifully filmed with vibrant colors and the seaside village in Croatia is a fantastic backdrop. There is also a quietness to the film that I appreciate. Although some critics dislike the slow pace of the film, I think the scenes are crafted and deliberate.  I don’t think the film’s pace lagged and the duel scene was compelling.  As I continue to think over the outcome of the duel and its meaning, I have concluded that I need to read Chekhov.  It is a shame that I have ignored him for so long.

72 Hours to Kickoff!

by Kara on August 31st, 2011
72 Hours to Kickoff! Cover Image

The Iowa Hawkeyes football season kicks off this Saturday September 3 at 11:00 AM at Kinnick Stadium.  The Hawkeyes face Tennessee Tech and the game is televised on the Big Ten Network.

There’s always a preseason buzz in the air.  Personally I don’t go to the football games (you’ll find me at the Library on kickoff day!) but I do enjoy the anticipation leading up to the football games.  I also have an appreciation of the Hawkeye legacy and enjoy the food at the tailgaters I attend.

The Library has many wonderful resources to help you prepare for the football season.  If you are interested in exciting moments in Hawkeye sports, search the Library’s catalog (click on the Word/Phrase Tab) for “Iowa Sports History.”  Or check out the “Go Hawkeyes” sound recording to listen to the Iowa Fightsong and other great moments in Hawkeye History.

If you want to watch an interview with the legendary Hayden Fry, navigate to the Library’s streaming video collection and select the entry for Hayden Fry.  Or if you need some ideas to plan for an awesome tailgate food spread, search Catalog Pro for “Tailgate Parties.”

If your idea of a perfect Hawkeye Football Saturday is to escape from the chaos with a great book or a trip out of town, we can help you with that too ;)

Count on the Iowa City Public Library to help you prepare for football season.  Go Hawkeyes!

Haunting films of Japan

by Debb Green on June 13th, 2011
Haunting films of Japan Cover Image

The history of cinema in Japan spans more than a century, with their first successful film released in 1897. By the next year, the Japanese produced two of the first ghost movies ever made. These silent black and white films were called “Bake Jizo” (Jizo the Spook) and “Shinin No Sosei” (Resurrection of a Corpse.) Given their history plus ancient folklore and superstitions, it is no surprise that some of the world’s most haunting movies come from this land of mystery and the rising sun.

Iowa City Public Library has an excellent collection of Japanese films, including both classic and new titles. Most are shelved together in the green labeled foreign movies section (look for the category “Japanese.”) There you can find several fantastic ghost movies, including:

Kwaidan (1965) Directed by Masaki Koboyashi. One of the most arresting films I’ve ever seen, this portmanteau (“ghost story”) movie is based on four separate stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s wonderful 1918 book, Japanese Fairy Tales. Though the eerie stories are unrelated, they are linked by a strong sense of ghosts and fear of the supernatural. The movie’s expressionistic color cinematography and set designs are breathtaking. Especially in the full scale reenactment by ghosts of a tragic, ancient sea battle set to music sung by a blind musician character called Ho-ichi, the Earless. My favorite story of the set is “Yuki-onna” (“The Woman in the Snow”), in which a demon snow woman falls for a freezing traveler she would normally kill only to have him betray her secret after their marriage.

Onibaba=Demon Woman (1964) In this tale, an impoverished mother and her daughter-in-law eke out a lonely, desperate existence in the susuki grass wastelands of feudal Japan. In order to survive, they are forced to murder the various lost samurai who pass by during the long civil war and sell their belongings for grain, dumping their corpses down a deep, dark hole. Exquisite black and white imagery will strike viewers as well as the women’s horrific punishment for first stealing and then wearing a haunted demonic mask.

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990) This film has eight unique sections which are all based on real dreams of Kurosawa, its director, at different stages of his life. All are unusual for their use of magical realism and several have scenarios that are more fantastic than horrific. Two segments are specifically about ghosts. “The Blizzard” is about a desperate band of mountaineers lost in a terrifyingly fierce and supernaturally driven snowstorm. Sure enough, another Yuki-onna demon woman tries to convince them drop to the ground and sleep so that she can suck their warm breath away to death. The other nightmarish vignette is called “The Tunnel” and concerns a defeated Japanese officer who is haunted by his entire platoon of soldiers waiting for further orders since dying at his command.

Other haunting Japanese films include the following interesting titles. Check them out soon and be sure to turn the lights down low!

Ugetsu (1953) – Set in 16th century Japan, this film focuses on an ambitious potter haunted by a beautiful yet tragic ghost and a foolish farmer who yearns to become a samurai.

Suna No Onna = Woman in the Dunes (1964) – This is more an existentialist film than traditional horror, but the surreal landscape and storyline make it troubling and a visual masterpiece.

Ju-On = The Grudge (2003) Revenge and curses from the spirit world have never been more creepy!

Ringu = The Ring (1998) Beware watching those unsolicited videos – for it might be your demise shown on the TV next!

Judy Moody’s Bum Start

by Debb Green on June 10th, 2011
Judy Moody’s Bum Start Cover Image

Well, bummer and double drat! The reviews are coming in for this week’s release of the first movie based on the hit Judy Moody series of transitional fiction for kids. It’s called Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. Unfortunately, the film isn’t stellar (or even close.) Too bad, as I’m sure the promotional hype will generate even more demand for Megan McDonald’s popular books. Interestingly enough, McDonald co-wrote the apparently frantic script. And there are or were plans for more Judy Moody movies in the future. See what you think of the critics’ comments:,1180545/critic-review.html

No doubt parents with kids under nine years old will still end up taking their kids to see it before it’s released in downloadable or DVD formats. If so, you’ll have kids clambering for more Judy Moody books. Here’s a library catalog screen listing all of the titles available to kids at Iowa City Public Library:

The film industry seems to be having some difficulty really focusing on quality productions these days when developing new movies based on famous children’s novels. Next big summer kiddie flick up is Jim Carrey’s new version of the classic 1938 children’s novel, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, coming out June 17th (Father’s Day weekend.) Here’s the movie’s official trailer:

And for those who loved the 2006 Disney/Pixar animation flick Cars, its sequel (Cars 2, of course) comes out on June 24th.

Retirement is boring.

by Beth on June 6th, 2011
Retirement is boring. Cover Image

Frank Moses is bored.  He lives in an unremarkable house, in an unremarkable suburb.  The high point of his month is chatting with his retirement plan’s customer service rep when his monthly check never arrives.  Or when he tears up the check to have an excuse to call and chat with her about her life and the newest paperback espionage thriller she’s reading.

Frank is retired, but not really liking it much.   Especially when people start shooting at him in the middle of the night.  That’s enough to bring anyone out of retirement.

Turns out Frank is actually RED: “Retired/Extremely Dangerous”   The designation given to retired black-ops CIA agents when they want out.  And what happens when the bad guys come after a RED agent?  He’ s going to fight back – after he figures out what in the heck is going on and who’s after him this time.  And he’ll need help from the rest of his old team of course.

Based on the DC serial of the same name, and directed by Robert Schwentke (Time Travelers Wife/Flight Plan)  RED is a fun espionage/caper film  starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Dreyfus.

To explain who does what to who and why would give it all away,  but picture Dame Helen Mirren dressed to the 9′s firing an enormous machine gun in a parking ramp, John Malkovich chasing the bad guys on foot while wearing a huge bomb strapped to his chest, and Bruce Willis getting the girl.


A flash from the past.

by Beth on May 23rd, 2011
A flash from the past. Cover Image

What do you get when you take a handful of  action movie heroes from the last three decades, add a couple professional wrestlers, a martial artists master, an ex NFL Line Backer turned actor, two notoriously creepy film bad guys, and a whole lot of guns?  You get   “The Expendables.

The cast is a who’s who list of tough guys – Sylvester StalloneJason Statham, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, and Eric Roberts.

Now I’ll admit – The Expendables is not a plot heavy film.  And it won’t ruin it if I give you the basics:  As the leader of a crew of mercenaries, Barney Ross (Stallone)  is approached by the mysterious “Mr Church” (Willis) about a job.  It seems that Mr. Church and the people he works for want Ross and his team to remove a dictator from power in a small island country in the Caribbean.  The fact that Mr. Church most likely works for the CIA makes  Ross very cautious, so he and one of his team (Statham) fly down and enter the county under cover to check out the situation for themselves.  After meeting up with their island contact they discover that the big trouble is really a rogue CIA agent turned drug kingpin (Eric Roberts).  When their cover story gets blown all hell breaks loose and they race to get off the island alive, bringing their contact out with them.  But of course she refuses to leave at the last minute.  They manage to get out in a blaze of bullets and explosions worthy of any good action flick.  But once back in the US, Stallone’s conscious gets to him and he decides to go back himself and bring his contact out.   And in true action hero movie style his whole team decides to come along to watch his back.

I warned you – not the most amazing plot.  But who goes to an Action film for the plot?   You really go for the fight scenes, the car chases, and the explosions.  And The Expendables has those.  LOTS of those.  And the fact that most of these guys are middle aged or older, makes the fight sequences even more impressive.

Special effects technology has improved greatly since the action films of the 80′s and the special effects in this movie were great.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I replayed a few of the gun fight scenes just to watch the special effects a second time.  Gross, but very well done.  They managed to have a very high bad-guy-death-count while showing a surprisingly small amount of blood.  And there was some pretty impressive editing and camera work as well, especially in the pickup truck chase sequence.

And while you could predict how the movie would end from the very beginning (guess who wins) the ending was well done, and definitely a set up for a sequel (which is due out in 2012).   But it was lots of fun for a stormy Sunday afternoon.  If you’re an action movie fan,  and you didn’t have to Google more than two of the stars names, you’ll like this one.

Intelligent Horror Films

by Debb Green on May 23rd, 2011
Intelligent Horror Films Cover Image

Since I was young (and my father let me watch midnight Creature Features on TV), I’ve enjoyed a good scary movie. Whether classic or new, the best horror films are those that capture viewers’ imaginations. While also exploring our uncertainties about mortality, morality, and fears of the unknown. When done well, much of the menace from their spooky moving images comes from within the viewer, rather than from extreme gore or violence. This is especially true for those some people call “intelligent horror films.”

The reason I’m writing this is because I recently watched a movie that fits this description. It was so good that I actually watched it twice (on a weekend, of course!) Let Me In is an English language film released in 2010 that was a remake of a 2008 Swedish movie (and novel) called Let the Right One In. The Iowa City Public Library owns both versions.

In Let Me In, a bullied 12 year old boy named Oscar meets Eli, a beautiful yet strange girl he befriends when she and a man who appears to be her father move into an apartment next door. Though he sees her only at night, Oscar does not realize at first that Eli is a vampire, even though she doesn’t feel the cold and walks barefoot in the snow. When strange disappearances and murders start happening in the town, suspicions mount from her neighbors and police.

Then the man who lives with her gets caught trying to find a new victim to slake Eli’s blood thirst, and is killed. As she has for decades past, Eli must move on to stay alive plus find a new human protector. Or else stay to help save Oscar from a vicious, life-threatening attack by the bullies – the only way she knows how. This she does in a terrifying way (in the high school swimming pool.) Then together, Oscar and Eli leave town as the viewer realizes that he has become her protector and will be so for the rest of his mortal life. With eerie yet evocative cinematography and music, this movie is a gem which Stephen King claims is “the best American horror film in the last 20 years.”

Here are some other “intelligent horror films” well worth a look. Some cross over into other genres like science fiction or psychological thrillers. But, at heart, are as much about horrifying viewers as they are about astounding or mystifying them.  Check them out soon and enjoy. And pass the popcorn!

Alien (1979)

The Bad Seed (1956)

Black Swan (2010)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

Diabolique (1955)

Donnie Darko (2004)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Hunger (1983)

Interview With the Vampire (1994)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both the 1956 & 1978 versions)

The Lost Boys (1987)

Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The Others (2002)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Psycho (1960)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The Shining (1980)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Thing (1982)

28 Days Later (2003)

Vertigo (1958)




Entries (RSS) | Comments (RSS).