Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tour de France

I don’t know how many of you are cycling fans but every year when July comes around I become glued to my television for the three weeks of the Tour de France. This year’s tour started in London and will end on the Champs Elysee (that’s Paris, you know!) three weeks and 3,553 km (2,208 miles) later. Despite the controversies this year (the leader was forced to quit), it was an exciting race and I was quite happy this past Sunday when Alberto Contador was awarded the maille jaune (yellow jersey – top prize). If you have been watching you might need something to ease you through your “tour-watching” withdrawals. These two films should do the trick (and they are available in DVD at HBPL):

Breaking Away
This 1979 film is number eight on the AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies list and arguably the best cycling film ever made. It won the Oscar for Original Screenplay for screenwriter, Steve Tesich and went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). It is a coming of age story about Dave Stoller and his three best friends, all just out of high school with no college or other life plans, sons of blue collar workers that live in Bloomington, Indiana. Dave loves cycling and all things Italian; so much so that he pretends to be an Italian exchange student at the local college. Everything changes after meeting his heroes, the Italian cycling team. He goes on to help his friends in the town's annual bike race against the local college boys.

American Flyers
American Flyers is one of my guilty pleasures and it holds a special place for me as it is the film that sparked my interest in cycling. Granted it is not Breaking Away but it was written by the same screenwriter, Steve Tesich. It has a good combination of family drama and great cycling footage. It is a story of sports physician Marcus (played by a young Kevin Costner) who persuades his brother David to come with him and train for a bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains. This is somewhat a ploy to test his brother to see if he is inflicted with a hereditary medical problem that killed their father. The wonderful John Amos plays one of Marcus’s colleagues and adds a bit of comedy and family warmth to the plot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hidden Gems

I have a network of film fanatic friends that keep me informed as to the hidden gems they discover in their various festival forays. The film that I kept hearing about from many of them was an independent film called “Sweet Land”. It finally became available on DVD and I made sure that HBPL ordered a copy for our collection. I watched it last night and it is worth the praise and the wait. It was the winner of the Best First Feature award at the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards. The lead actress, Elizabeth Reaser, took home the Best Actress award from our own Newport Beach Film Festival in 2006. The film follows the fortunes of a young German woman, Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), who travels to America to marry a Norwegian immigrant farmer, Olaf (Tim Guinee), and suffers from the post-World War I prejudice against all things German. The film also has Alex Kingston (Dr. Corday from E.R. – you wondered what she had been up to!), the always watchable Alan Cumming, John Heard and Ned Beatty. It is a lovely film.

And while we are talking about lovely films; HBPL recently added “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” to our DVD collection. I don’t remember this playing in the theaters in Orange County but I got a chance to see it last year while in New Zealand. It was screening only one night in the town of Napier and I happened to be in the right place on the right night. This film is based on the novel by the same name by English author, Elizabeth Taylor and stars the gifted Joan Plowright (the wife of the late Sir Lawrence Olivier). It is about an elderly woman who is all but abandoned by her family in a London retirement hotel when she strikes up a curious friendship with a young writer.

These might be a bit “chicky” but not so girly that men won’t find them charming as well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's up Doc?

You all know that HBPL has an excellent collection of feature, independent and foreign films. But what about those documentaries? We have many of the past Academy Award winners/nominees such as: Spellbound, Winged Migration, The Fog of War, Super Size Me, March of the Penguins, Murderball, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and An Inconvenient Truth. But we have also added some fine documentaries that have recently aired on television. In case you missed them:

Planet Earth: As You Have Never Seen it Before
This stunning documentary originally aired this year on the Discovery Channel. The 11 part series is contained in our 5 DVD collection. This program was 5 years in the making and redefines natural history filmmaking. It starts with the first episode Pole to Pole which ties the series together with a fresh understanding of how life in every nook and cranny of the globe is connected. It then continues on to Mountains, Deep Oceans, Deserts, Ice Worlds, Shallow Seas, Great Plains, Jungles, Fresh Water, Forests and Caves. Included in these episodes are never seen locations and animal behavior and it reminds us of what a wonderful and diverse planet we live on (and should be taking care of!)

America at a Crossroads:
This program aired this year on PBS and is hosted by Robert MacNeil. It is a series of independently produced documentaries that explore the challenges confronting the post-9/11 world. The titles held at HBPL in our media department are:
The Case for War: in defense of freedom
With debate over the war in Iraq still dominating policy discussions, this film follows one of the advocates for the war against Saddam Hussein
Europe’s 9/11
Europe’s 9/11 explores in-depth the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism through the lens of the bombings in Madrid, Spain and the connections between those bombers and Al Qaeda cell activities in Milan, Italy and the Van Gogh murder in the Netherlands.
Faith Without Fear
Follow along on the journey of Irshad Manji, a Muslim dissident, as he tries to help restore humanity and reason to Islam.
Gangs of Iraq
This segment explores whether the coalition can build a national Iraqi army, and the police, in the midst of civil war.
Jihad: The men and ideas behind Al Qaeda
This is an in-depth look at the modern radical Islamic groups and the ideas and beliefs that inspire them.
This explores the diversity of Muslims in America today, focusing on communities’ experience after 9/11, and contrasting life for Muslims here in the United States compared to Muslims in Britain and Europe.
Operation Homecoming: Writing the wartime experience
A unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American servicemen and women through their own words.
Security versus Liberty: the other war
Explores this urgent national debate by talking with leading critics and advocates of the new policies, and telling the stories of people whose lives have been directly affected
Struggle for the Soul of Islam: inside Indonesia
An inside look at how a fledgling democracy is struggling to control the rise of religious extremism.