Tag Archives: tara

Victoria: A One Shot Film

Victoria_film

Victoria ponders her fate. Image from andsoitbeginsfilms.com. Click through for source.

We open on a young woman, possibly alone, dancing in a nightclub with strobe lights ominously flashing around her. On the way out of the club she runs into four cheeky German men. The men talk and goof around with our female protagonist, and then ask her to come hang out with them, to which she concedes. This happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie, but everything that happens afterward is a direct consequence of that one impulsive late night decision.

At this point in the film we learn that the titular character, Victoria, is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans.

victoria1-352x480While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama — with an innocent finding herself in the wrong place/time with the wrong people — Victoria turns out to be something a little different. This is largely due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed, with everything we see on screen being captured in a single shot. That’s right, no cuts. Films such as Birdman and Rope are lauded for being shot in long takes that are then cut together to feel like everything is happening in one take, but very few movies are actually shot using one long take (a couple that come to mind are Russian Ark and Timecode).

In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming a 2-hour-plus movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin; because there are no cuts, and no edits, the director and actors must have constantly felt like they were walking on a tightrope, just hoping that some random person on the streets of Berlin didn’t mess up a scene. In the end, Victoria was filmed three times (after much rehearsing) and then the best take was chosen as the eventual film. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it really works to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line, as Victoria is drawn into more and more dangerous situations.

Still, even with the tense story line, my favorite thing about this movie has to be the performances — especially the astounding lead performance from relative newcomer Laia Costa. She won the Best Actress award at last year’s German Film Awards, and boy did she earn it. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her performance.

If you’re a fan of foreign or independent cinema, you should absolutely see this movie. Or, even if you’re not and you just want to experience something a little different, I recommend giving Victoria a try.

What about you, dear readers? Have you watched anything good recently? What do you recommend?

Happy viewing,

Tara

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Adventures in Foreign Television

 

kaboul_kitchen

My first exposure to a television show from beyond American shores was a program called Are You Being Served. It used to run occasionally on the local public broadcasting network, and I was both mystified and delighted by it. I was too young to fully understand the humor of the show (which is full of one innuendo after another), but it was different from anything else I saw on television, so I liked it.

I was reminded of this show when a new complete set of Are You Being Served arrived at the Library recently. Of course, the Library owns quite a few BBC programs, but less well known is how many foreign language television shows we have on offer. We have about 60 here at the Main Library alone, and I am a newly minted fan of a French program called Kaboul Kitchen.

Kaboul Kitchen is a half hour black comedy set in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the early oughts. The central character, Jacky, is a sympathetic but dubious type. He is a French expat who operates a restaurant/hotel that caters to fellow expats, and more than a few shady characters. I am only on the fourth episode of the series, but already a string of dodgy individuals have shown up on Jacky’s doorstep, including bootleggers, extortionists, corrupt embassy officials, politicians and shady military personnel.

Of course, this kind of show needs a moral center, so into the Kaboul Kitchen steps the do-gooder daughter Jacky abandoned years ago, who has grown into a headstrong woman bent on challenging authority and championing humanitarian projects (like building a school for girls). All of this probably sounds fairly dark for a comedy, but the show is surprising light and breezy, even while addressing hot button political issues.

This show does not appear to be well known in the United States, which is too bad, because it deserves a larger audience. It was probably never picked up by an American station for a couple different reasons—it is a very international show, and is not told through the lens of an American living abroad. If I have one complaint, it might be that it is told too much from the Western European expat perspective, and I’m hoping some of the Afghani characters are given larger story arcs in future episodes.

If you’re looking for something TV-wise a little off the beaten path, I definitely recommend giving this show a try. And if you’re looking for even more foreign television shows I also recommend: Deutschland 83 (German), The Returned (French), and Prisoners of War (Hebrew).

Happy viewing,
Tara

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We Need More Diverse Oscar Nominations

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations.

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors in all of it’s major acting categories. This means some raved about performances from the last year were snubbed, namely: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, the biopic Straight Outta Compton and its cast, and Will Smith in Concussion.

Ava-DuVernay

Photo of director Ava DuVernay from ew.com.

Of course, this will come as a surprise to no one who remembers last year’s most egregious Oscar snub – no nomination for the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, or its leading man, David Oyelowo. It was one of the best reviewed films of 2015 (99% percent on Rotten Tomatoes is a huge thing to pull off, people!) and yet its director and star were not nominated?! Adding insult to injury, DuVernay’s nomination could have made history, as she would have been the first female Black director to be nominated for an Oscar.

Of course, the main reason I was so upset that she wasn’t nominated was because I thought both her and Oyelowo deserved to win. Biopics are not one of my more favorite film genres, as they tend to be overly corny and sentimental, and hit all of the same old tired beats. (Which is just one of the many reasons I love the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, as it’s an almost perfect send-up of the music biopic genre.)

selma2

Seriously, how were these costume designers not nominated? Image from Hive Society. Click through for source.

Selma is really the exact opposite of that sort of sappy film. It wisely chooses to focus on one particular (and important) moment in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and omits any of his famous speeches, or the tragic news of his death. In all actuality, it is a film less about MLK, and more about all of the many scholars and activists tirelessly working behind the scenes to push the Civil Rights Movement forward. It’s less about speechifying, and more about backroom machinations and the slow, sometimes tedious process of fighting for justice.

The fact that DuVernay wasn’t nominated last year, and that no actors of color were nominated this year, speaks volumes about just how far we still need to go. Of course, if you missed Selma last year, you can still catch up on it by checking it out from your local library. Or, you can check out one of these other great films from female Black directors: Pariah by Dee Rees, Cadillac Records by Carnell Martin, Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons, or Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

selma3

Selma image from Hive Society. Click through for source.

Me – I’m officially done with the Oscars.

If you too intend to skip the Oscars this year, I can think of no better replacement activity that watching (or re-watching) Selma. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

-Tara

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Ten Holiday Albums to Stream Right Now

Last year, our music and film specialists at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main offered up their suggestions for holiday tunes that were a little off the beaten path. This year we’re making it even easier—here are ten albums we recommend that you can download or stream right now through the library with Hoopla. (And if you don’t yet have a Hoopla account, you can learn more about it here.)
beachboys

The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album

If gloomy winter weather is getting you down, there is really no better balm than the sunny California sounds of the Beach Boys.

 

charliebrown

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Has there ever been a more maudlin song that included lyrics like, “Christmastime is here/Happiness and cheer”?  For me, this album perfectly sums up the holidays with its mixture of joy and bitter sweet nostalgia.

ellfitz

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas

This is one of the funnest, jazziest holiday albums around. Ella Fitzgerald belts out classics from the raucous “Jingle Bells” to the wistful “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Highly recommended.

 

elvisxmas
The Christmas Collection: Elvis Presley

If you’re looking to make it a blue Christmas, look no further than The King. This album is one half rockin’, one half bluesy gospel and all great.

 

soulsville
Get down for Christmas with the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & The MG’s.

 

 

jamesbrown
Christmas albums do not get any funkier than this. You cannot go wrong with James Brown.
franksinatra

Make it a Rat Pack Christmas with the jazzy, loungey vocal stylings of one Frank Sinatra.

 

staplesingers

The 25th Day Of December – The Staples Singers

The Staple Singers are well known for their R&B hits of the late 60s and early 70s, but prior to that, they were a really groovy gospel group. The Staple sisters all have wonderful voices, but it’s Pops Staples work on the steel guitar that really makes these gospel tunes something special.

 

venturesxmas

The Ventures Christmas Album

Like the Beach Boys, the Ventures are sure to cheer any listener up on a gloomy day with their swinging surf-rock melodies.

 

 

mowtownxmas

The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection

Nearly two hours of holiday music from the likes of the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Put your dancing shoes on and enjoy!

 

Happy Rockin’ Holidays,

Tara

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10 Nontraditional Holiday Movies, Part 2

diehard2

Ah, what the he**; it’s Christmas!

— John McClane, Die Hard 2

Back in 2013 I shared my favorite nontraditional holiday films. These are films for people who either don’t care for It’s a Wonderful Life, or have seen it way too many times. Or if you love A Christmas Storybut are looking for something different this year, then look no further.

Here are 10 more nontraditional holiday films that you can check out and enjoy from the library:

Better Off Dead

betteroff

If you’re looking for a dark, twisted 1980’s comedy to watch this holiday season, you can do no better than this cult gem. Lane Myer has just been dumped by his girlfriend for the captain of the ski team, and this film chronicles his attempts to win her back or die trying. It also features some of the absolute worst Christmas gifts in film history – frozen TV dinners, and a framed photo of “Little Ricky” (trust me).

 

Christmas Evil

Christmas-Evil

Poor Harry had a disturbing episode with Santa as a child. He then grows up to become a vigilante Santa, rewarding “nice” children and punishing “naughty” ones. This is apparently John Waters‘ favorite Christmas movie, and depending on your tastes, that’s either high praise or a strong deterrent.

 

Die Hard 2

die-hard-2

John McClane is back to save Christmas, with more explosions and wisecracks.“Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a [beep] Christmas tree, a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this [beep] tin can.”

 

Edward Scissorhands

edwardscissor

A winter fairytale for fans of Johnny Depp and/or brooding. Edward, a young man with scissors for hands, is taken in by a suburban family after he is found living alone in an old castle. Initially Edward is embraced by his new community, before becoming an outcast and scapegoat for a robbery committed during the holiday season. Will love conquer all in the end? If you’re looking for a double feature, this will pair nicely with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Go

go_movie

For those who prefer partying (as opposed to brooding or fighting crime) this nifty triptych gets the job done. A trio of party seekers become involved with a drug dealer, two soap opera actors and some Las Vegas thrill-seekers after a night of raving and a drug deal gone wrong.

 

Happy Christmas

happy-christmas

A slight but well-observed look at what happens when your irresponsible younger sibling comes to visit for the holidays, and brings their baggage with them. There are some uncomfortable moments in this light comedy, but it’s mostly a sweet tale about family bonding and forgiveness.

 

Iron Man 3

ironman3

This movie came out in May of 2013, but oddly enough, takes place during the Christmas season. There’s a lot of holiday ambiance; twinkling Christmas lights, snow, wrapped packages and exploding Christmas tree ornaments. The director/writer Shane Black is known for setting his films during the holidays (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy ScoutThe Long Kiss Goodnight), and some have even commented on how this film is actually an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Albeit with things blowing up.

 

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

kiss_kiss_bang_bang

This is like the indie, low-budget version of Iron Man 3. It is also written and directed by Shane Black, and stars Robert Downey Jr. as a wisecracking sort-of actor. Replace the superhero stuff in Iron Man 3 with a twisty noir plot, and that pretty much sums this film up. It’s a lot of silly fun.

 

Metropolitan

metropolitan

Quite by accident, the middle-class Tom Townsend finds himself spending his holidays with a group of well-educated upper-class New Yorkers. If you like talky films featuring cultured, witty and urbane young people trading barbs, then you will enjoy Whit Stillman’s modern comedy of manners.

 

2046

2046

Are you pining over lost love? Filled with existential dread and regret? If your Christmas Eve plans involve sitting at a bar pondering over recent poor life choices, then boy, this is the holiday film for you!

Happy Holidays and Happy Viewing,

Tara

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Dysfunctional Fun for the Holidays

conte-noel

Family love is messy, clinging and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper. -Friedrich Nietzsche

This year, for the first time in many years, I am heading home for the holidays. Most of my family live in Oregon, and as much as I’d like to see them every year for the holiday season, I don’t like dealing with airports. Rare circumstances are bringing me home this year though, and I’m really looking forward to it — despite having to deal with air travel and lengthy flights.

 

I’m pretty fortunate in that my family is fairly low-key and drama free during the holidays. Sure, we have our political squabbles, but we mostly hang out and eat, watch movies and plays cards. [Side note: If I win at cards my dad will say it is “luck,” and if he wins it is inevitably due to “skill.”]

 

If you too are visiting loved ones this holiday season, take a moment to ponder how lucky you are that you don’t belong to the following families.
 

contenoel

A Christmas Tale

A bone marrow transplant, mental illness, self-injury, alienation, general family dysfunction and Catherine Deneuve. It’s a very French holiday film!

cityisland

City Island

The Rizzo family is sent into turmoil when the patriarch of the family brings home an ex-con to stay with them. Everyone in this family has a secret, but no one’s sharing, and the consequences could be incredibly uncomfortable.

familystone

The Family Stone

The Stone family presents a united front when eldest son Everett brings home his fiancé, Meredith, whom they all despise. Feeling out of place, Meredith begs her sister to join her in the Stone household, setting off a series of further complications.

familypreys

The Family That Preys

Two families are torn apart by ambition, secrets and infidelity — in the end, will they come back stronger than ever?

kidsallright

The Kids Are All Right

Two moms, two kids … and one sperm donor interloping with family affairs. This is a sweet comedy where the kids of the title may have it more together than the adults.

littlemiss

Little Miss Sunshine

A dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupt family is brought together when the youngest member of the clan is accepted into a beauty pageant. Despite complications due to drugs, Nietzsche and a recent suicide attempt, the family ultimately triumphs.

idiotbrother

Our Idiot Brother

When idealistic and sweet-natured Ned is kicked out by his hippy girlfriend, he decides to visit each of his three sisters, quickly sending each of their lives into disaster.

royalten

The Royal Tenenbaums

Cancer, resentment, secrets, depression, attempted suicide, unrequited love — it’s all here.

stepbros

Step Brothers

Two stunted man-children (Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly) must learn to get along after their mother and father  marry.

16candles

Sixteen Candles

Poor Samantha. All she wants is for someone in her family to remember that it’s her sweet 16th birthday — unfortunately the only person who seems to take an interest in her is a nerdy boy named Ted.

thisiswhere

This is Where I Leave You

When their father passes away, four grown but stunted siblings return to their childhood home to sit Shiva with their free-speaking mother.

 

welcomehome

Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

Successful talk-show host RJ Stevens was bullied and put upon by his family as a child. When he visits home he’s determined to show everyone how much he’s changed. Unfortunately, RJ’s Southern relatives have other plans.

 

Am I missing any of your favorites? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Happy Upcoming Holidays,

-Tara

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12 Creepy Horror Movies to Watch This October

changeling5

I recently took the 31 Horror Movies in 31 Days challenge (sometimes referred to as Hoop-tober), and while I am sure to fail miserably, so far I have been plugging along. My goal this month has been to seek out horror movies that I haven’t seen before, leading me to finally catch up on older classics like Dead Ringers, The Uninvited, Don’t Look Now, and Prom Night.

This project has also made me realize that I have watched a lot of horror movies since I began working in the Music, Film & Audio Department of our library over four years ago. While I was a casual fan at the time — I have always enjoyed a good scary movie for the same reason I enjoy, say, roller coasters — I can now say that I’ve grown to respect the genre. I’ve written before in defense of horror movies, and also shared a list of haunted house films as well as a list of children’s movies that terrified me while growing up. This year, seeking out previously unwatched horror movies has inspired me to take stock of my favorites from over the years. So here are my top twelve favorite horror films (soon to be revised, and listed chronologically since I’m not sure how to rank them):

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

There is no explicit violence or gore in this film, just a sustained sense of looming paranoia and dread. Young Rosemary Woodhouse moves into an old apartment building with her husband Guy, and soon after becomes pregnant. The apartment building and its eccentric inhabitants make for a claustrophobic and unsettling viewing experience. Guaranteed to give you the creeps!

 

Image from: http://nhpr.org/

Image from: http://nhpr.org/

Carrie (1976)

For me, the real terror of this movie lies not in its (spoilers) supernatural ending, but in its depiction of the horrors of puberty and adolescent cruelty. And in what could be called a very unhealthy mother-daughter relationship.

 

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

Suspiria (1977)

An American dancer travels to Germany to study at a ballet school in the Black Forest where it just so happens horrific murders are being perpetrated. This is a Dario Argento movie, meaning that the plot will not necessarily “hang together” or even make sense, but everything will look absolutely gorgeous and spooky. What makes this movie really stand out though is its killer soundtrack by Pittsburgh’s own Goblin. Warning: there is gore in this movie, although it is all highly stylized.

 

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

Halloween (1978)

In my book, still the gold standard by which all slasher films in the horror genre can be measured. Even on a recent re-watch, the film does not come across as campy. It is still legitimately scary, and the John Carpenter composed score is sparse, terrific, and eerie.

 

Greetings from the Monroeville Mall. Image from: movie-locations.com

Greetings from the Monroeville Mall. Image from: movie-locations.com

Dawn of the Dead (1979)

Although I find Night of the Living Dead more creepy, I prefer its 1979 sequel. While Dawn is still scary and violent, it also has a sense of humor. And you come to really care about the characters, which adds a sense of tragedy and existential dread to the whole proceedings.

 

Save the cat, kill the alien. Image from: http://io9.com/

Save the cat, kill the alien. Image from: http://io9.com/

Alien (1979)

I have a pretty loose definition of what constitutes a horror movie — if something frightens me or makes me uncomfortable, I’ll call it horror. And this movie scares the bejesus out of me. I am terrified of outer space (I haven’t seen Gravity, but I’m pretty sure it would make this list), and on top of that, this movie has one scary monster. It also has a strong female protagonist in Ellen Ripley, making it one of my all time favorite movies. Oh, and it also has Jones the cat.

 

The Shining (1980)

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post growing up under the shadow of the Timberline Lodge (the exterior location for The Shining), and that is probably the reason my parents thought it was a-okay for me and my brothers to be watching this movie as little kids. That and it was the 80s. The location (an empty, isolated hotel in winter) and the beautiful, unsettling visuals are enough to make this a totally great horror movie, even before Jack Nicholson goes crazy or those twin sisters show up.

 

Image from: pinterest.com

Image from: pinterest.com

The Changeling (1980)

I actually hadn’t seen this film until a couple years ago, but it came highly recommended by almost every horror movie lover in my department at work. It’s a ghost story, and a haunted house story, and features one fantastically creepy attic. Director James Wan has mentioned in interviews that this is one of his favorite horror films, and if you’ve seen Insidious or The Conjuring you may notice that some of their scarier moments were inspired by this film.

 

Image from: mondo-digital.com

Image from: mondo-digital.com

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Pan’s Labyrinth is often considered director Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, and rightfully so. But if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this is the film that gets the job done. Everything about this film is sad and beautiful and unnerving, from the setting (an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War) to the atmospheric visuals.

 

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

28 Days Later (2002)

This is the film that introduced the concept of the “fast zombie.” Things are creepy long before the zombies show up though, as our hero Jim wanders around an abandoned London alone. Like with Dawn of Dead, you come to know and care about the characters in this film, making the threat of violence all the more gut-wrenching. This is also one of the first films to effectively be shot entirely with digital cameras, and it gives 28 Days a gritty 1970s look and feel.

 

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

Image from: imdb.com

The Descent (2005)

Those with claustrophobia should steer clear of this film! Things go pretty terribly in this film long before any creepy crawlies show up. A group of women cavers go spelunking in Appalachian country, but little does the group know that their dare devil leader has planned to take them into a system of unmapped, unexplored caves. The group gets lost, and stuck in many tight spaces, and then…did you hear something out there in the dark? If you’re looking to get scared, this is the movie for you.

Bonus Pick:

Sleepaway Camp

This movie is not scary, but it is amazingly off-the-charts bonkers. If you’re a fan of 80s films, men in short shorts, Jersey accents, unintentional laughs, and implausible twist endings, then you should give this one a try.

I left off some newer favorites (House of the Devil, The Babadook, and It Follows) since I feel like I need to sit with them for a while before I know where they land on this list — and because making best-of-lists is serious business!

What about you, dear reader? What are your go-to scary movies? What have I missed? Do you have any recommendations?

Happy Haunting,

Tara

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