LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

A Poetic Journey of Self-Discovery, the Sport of 9-Man, plus Latest Trailers, Fast Scans | Video Reviews, July 2015

redstarTracks. color. 100+ min. John Curran, Weinstein Co., dist. by Anchor Bay Entertainment c/o Amazon.com & select online retailers. 2015. DVD-R UPC 889290115799. $19.98. Rated: PG-13. F/BIOPIC

tracks7615Based on Robyn Davidson’s 1995 memoir, subtitled “A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback,” Tracks showcases a great performance by Mia ­Wasikowska as a solitary young woman whose arduous—some claim foolhardy—journey with four camels and her dog is chronicled by a National Geographic photographer (Adam Driver). Curran (The Painted Veil) traces Davidson’s path of self-discovery with matter-of-factly beautiful images that don’t clamor for attention but make an indelible impression. A very moving film that carefully employs flashbacks to show what makes its protagonist tick, this biographical drama is unpretentious poetry next to the (albeit good) prose of the similarly themed Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, likewise based on a journal. VERDICT Relegated to manufacture-on-demand (MOD) status—a route almost exclusively used for deep-catalog titles—this well-reviewed picture (produced by the Weinstein Co., no less) was poorly marketed and distributed and never found an audience in its late 2014 limited theatrical release. One of the year’s best films, it deserves the second chance libraries are in a unique position to provide. Although the film is available for streaming, neither brick-and-mortar retailers nor rental services like Netflix offer MOD discs.—Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

redstar9-Man: A Streetball Battle in the Heart of Chinatown. color. 89 min. In English & Toisan w/English subtitles. Ursula Liang, www.9-man.com. 2015. DVD UPC 888295225908. $350 + $8 s/h. Public performance; closed-captioned. SPORTS

9man7615Producer/director Liang’s debut feature documentary spotlights the sport of 9-man, a fast-paced, strategic variation of volleyball that is popular throughout North American Chinatowns. The film wisely begins with a brief but helpful history lesson of the game and a clear and concise overview of its rules, using animation, still photos, and on-screen text to explain the basics and detail the game’s origins in the socially segregated Chinese American immigrant communities of the 1930s. Liang then shifts her focus to several 9-man teams as they participate in a tournament that allows only male players with documented Asian ancestry. Viewers are introduced to a large number of players and coaches who address the game’s appeal and discuss its role in shaping Chinese American male identity. VERDICT This informative and tremendously entertaining work by a talented new voice in documentary filmmaking captures not only the excitement and competitiveness of this nonmainstream sport but also its historical and cultural significance. A must-see for viewers interested in either sports or Asian American studies.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia

redstarThe Hanging Gale. 2 discs. color. 208 min. Diarmid Lawrence, Little Bird Prod. in assoc. with Kensington Fields for BBC, dist. by BFS Entertainment, www.bfsent.com. 2015. DVD UPC 066805312014. $29.98. F

hanginggale7615The Irish Potato Famine killed approximately one million people between 1845 and 1852, with another million forced to emigrate. The famine was ostensibly caused by a disease known as potato blight, however, the high death toll has been largely attributed to the injustices of the British landholding system that leased to poor Irish farmers at exorbitant rents and was managed by often corrupt agents. This four-part BBC series, originally telecast in 1995, is set in Donegal, Ireland, in 1846 and follows the lives of the Phelan brothers, played by actual brothers Joe, Mark, Paul, and Stephen McGann. The story commences as new land agent Captain Townsend (­Michael Kitchen) comes to the community just before the famine begins. Viewers quickly see the worst aspects of the landholding system as farmers who are unable to pay their rent are thrown off the land to starve, while their homes are destroyed. The onset of the potato blight divides the brothers and members of the community, torn between non­violent protests and bloody revolt. This well-acted narrative film brings to light a tragic period in history and how it affected real Irish families. VERDICT Winner of several BAFTA awards, including best drama series, among other honors, this series is highly recommended for any drama and entertainment collection. It would also be informative to those with interests in social studies and history, particularly that of Ireland.—Tom Budlong, Atlanta

fast scans: Top Foreign & indie picks

By Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

The Blue Room. color. 75+ min. In French w/English subtitles. IFC, dist. by MPI. 2014. DVD UPC 030306940892. $24.98. Rated: R.

Prolific French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) makes his directorial debut in this terse thriller based on a novel by crime writer Georges Simenon. Coscripter Amalric also stars, lending an air of resignation as a married man questioned by police in the death of his wife, presumably murdered as part of a pact with his clinging lover, who is also suspected of killing her husband. Unfolding largely in flashbacks, the film seems less interested in mystery-solving than in the consequences of adultery.

The Confession. 2 discs. 139+ min. 1970. DVD ISBN 9781604659818; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604659801. [See Trailers, LJ 4/1/15.]

State of Siege. 120+ min. 1972. DVD ISBN 9781604659832; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604659825.

ea. vol: color. In French w/English subtitles. Criterion Collection. DVD $29.95; Blu-ray $39.95.

Forming sort of a trilogy with Costa-Gavras’s previous and superior Z, these follow-ups again star Yves Montand. Confession deals with a Czech minister jailed and interrogated by fellow members of his country’s Communist government for alleged crimes against the party. Siege finds an American adviser to Uruguay abducted by leftist urban guerrillas as part of a prisoner swap in their efforts to oust a brutal dictatorship. Bitingly effective, both films exemplify the decidedly message-driven 1970s-era political drama.

diplomacy7615Diplomacy. color. 85+ min. In French & German w/English subtitles. Zeitgeist Films. 2014. DVD UPC 795975116633. $29.95.

The Nazis are essentially defeated, and Allied forces are poised to liberate Paris, but der Führer has retribution in mind when he commands Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) to destroy iconic sites in the French capital with carefully planted mines. It is no spoiler to reveal that Swedish consul Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) persuades Choltitz to disregard orders in Volker Schlöndorff’s (The Tin Drum) fascinating rumination on wartime duty and honor. Adapted from a play, it’s talky but not set-bound.

Jamaica Inn. b/w. 99+ min. Cohen Media Group. 1939. DVD UPC 741952781899. $29.99; Blu-ray UPC 741952781998. $39.99.

Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 best seller, Alfred Hitchcock’s final British film before coming to Hollywood spotlights a slyly theatrical performance by Charles Laughton, scenery chewing to his obvious delight as a country squire who directs a band of smugglers to lure bounty-laden ships to their rocky demise by a seaside lodge. A luminous Maureen O’Hara makes her screen debut in this lesser but still worthy Hitchcock work, magnificently restored for its 75th anniversary. Replace prior subpar editions where apt.

The Train. b/w. 133+ min. Kino Lorber. 1964. DVD UPC 738329160722. $19.95.

Having stolen a treasure trove of priceless paintings from French museums, a fanatical German commander (Paul Scofield) is pitted against a dedicated band of resistance fighters and a resourceful rail yard stationmaster (Burt Lancaster) in an attempt to transport his horde to Berlin. In a thinking person’s action flick, John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) asks whether objets d’art are worth more than human lives while delivering an enthralling cat and mouse game. This digitally restored classic makes Monuments Men look like a knock-off.

Trailers: What’s Coming on DVD/Blu-ray

Adult Beginners. color. 90+ min. Ross Katz, dist. by RADiUS c/o Anchor Bay. Aug. 2015. DVD UPC 013132630588. $22.98; Blu-ray UPC 013132630595. $26.99. Rated: R. COMEDY

“Growing up” in the suburbs.

Animals. color. 86+ min. Collin Schiffli, dist. by Oscilloscope Labs. Aug. 2015. DVD UPC 857490005103. $29.99. DRAMA

Drug addiction takes its toll.

Day for Night. 2 discs. color. 115+ min. In French w/English subtitles. François Truffaut, dist. by Criterion Collection. Aug. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781681430355. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781681430347. $39.95. DRAMEDY

The master’s ode to moviemaking.

frenchlieutenantswoman7615The French Lieutenant’s Woman. 2 discs. color. 123+ min. Karel Reisz, dist. by Criterion Collection. Aug. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781681430339. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781681430320. $39.95. DrAMA

The Fowles’s novel reimagined, with Irons and Streep.

La Grande bouffe. 2 discs. color. 130+ min. Marco Ferreri, dist. by Arrow Video c/o MVDvisual. Aug. 2015. DVD/Blu-ray UPC 760137764397. $39.95. DRAMEDY

Four international stars go for laughs.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. 3 discs. color. 406+ min. dist. by BBC Worldwide. Aug. 2015. DVD UPC 883929407989. $34.98; 2-disc Blu-ray UPC 883929408009. $39.98. FANTASY

Magic in 19th-century England.

May Allah Bless France. b/w. 96+ min. In French w/English subtitles. Abd Al Malik, dist. by Strand Releasing. Aug. 2015. DVD UPC 712267350728. $24.99. DRAMA

A true story of salvation through rap.

Night and the City. 2 discs. b/w. 95+ min. Jules Dassin, dist. by Criterion Collection. Aug. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781681430282. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781681430274. $39.95. FILM NOIR

Richard Widmark wrestles his way to fame and fortune.—Bette-Lee Fox

 

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

FICTION

Dancing on the Edge. 3 discs. color. 7+ hrs. Stephen Poliakoff, Ruby Film & Television Prod. for BBC, dist. by PBS, shoppbs.org. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781627892926. $34.99; Blu-ray ISBN 9781627892933. $39.99. SDH subtitles. F

A Place To Call Home: Season 1. 4 discs. color. 591 min. Roger Hodgman & others, Programs @ Seven, dist. by Acorn Media, 888- 870-8047; www.acornonline.com. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781621723318. $59.99. SDH subtitles. F

Winter in the Blood. color. 98+ min. Andrew & Alex Smith, Ranchwater Films in assoc. with Kitefliers Studios, dist. by Alive Mind Cinema c/o Kino Lorber, www.kinolorber.com. 2015. DVD UPC 738329156527. $29.95. F/WESTERN

ARTS & HUMANITIES

Bending Sticks: The Sculpture of Patrick Dougherty. color. 54 min. Penelope Maunsell & Kenny Dalsheimer, PenKen Prods., www.bendingsticksthefilm.com. 2014. DVD UPC 884501994552. $89; Blu-ray $109; acad. libs. DVD $199; Blu-ray $249; public performance; home version $25; Blu-ray $35. SDH subtitles. ART-GENERAL

redstarBéla Fleck: How To Write a Banjo Concerto. color. 96 min. Béla Fleck & Sascha Paladino, c/o Argot Pictures, jim@argotpictures.com. Fall 2015. DVD $100; acad. libs. $250. Public performance. Music

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. color & b/w. 106 min. In English, Cambodian, & French w/English subtitles. John Pirozzi, dist. by Argot Pictures, jim@argotpictures.com. Fall 2015. DVD $150; acad. libs. $300. Public performance. MUSIC

Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland. color. 74 min. Joe Biel , dist. by Microcosm Publishing, microcosmpublishing.com. 2015. DVD ISBN 9781621068990. $19.95; on demand $3.99. SPORTS/BICYCLING

SOCIAL SCIENCES

Once My Mother. color & b/w. 75+ min. w/downloadable study guide. In English & Polish w/English subtitles. Sophia Turkiewicz, Change Focus Media in assoc. with Australian Broadcasting Corp ., dist. by Ronin Films, www.roninfilms.com.au. 2015. $120 (Aus); acad. libs. $365; home version $34.95; streaming Filmakers Library, www.academicvideostore.com/filmakers. 3 yr. $295 (US); perpetuity $895. Public performance. Rated: PG. BIOG/HIST

redstarAfter Winter, Spring. color. 74 min. In French & English w/English subtitles. Judith Lit, Terra Prods. , dist. by Bullfrog Films, 800-543-3764; www.bullfrogfilms.com. 2014. DVD ISBN 9781941545270. $295 (Rental: $95). Public performance. INT AFFAIRS/AGRI

Liemba. color. 66 min. John Billingsley, Breadbox Prods. , dist. by Indican Pictures, www.indicanpictures.com. 2015. DVD UPC 825284201703. $21.99. INT AFFAIRS/TRAV

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Brooklyn Farmer. color. 27+ min. Michael Tyburski , dist. by Outcast Films, www.outcast-films.com. 2014. DVD UPC 079734487060. $295. Public performance; closed-captioned; home version $24.99. AGRI

A Year in Champagne. color. 82+ min. In English & French w/English subtitles. David Kennard, Inca Films , dist. by First Run Features, 800-229-8575; www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2015. DVD UPC 720229916554. $24.95. BEVERAGES

Railroading Paradise. color. 58 min. Anthony Aalto & Mike Hinchey, Green Island Films, dist. by Collective Eye, www.collectiveeye.org. 2015. DVD $39.99; public performance $125; acad. libs. $250. Closed-captioned. ENVIRONMENT

All of Me: A Story of Love, Loss and Last Resorts. color. 53 min. Alexandra Lescaze , dist. by Video Project, 800-4-PLANET; www.videoproject.com. 2014. DVD $89; acad. libs. $250. Public performance; closed-captioned. HEALTH

 

 

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