Flick Picks 4/10/2015: Grantchester, The Red Road, Black Sails

Quite a mixed bag this week.  No big feature film releases, but a variety of new series, documentaries and fun classic released on DVD.

GRANTCHESTER, (Season 1)

If you didn't flip channels or turn off the t.v. after the recent fifth season of Downton Abbey, you might have seen another British production, Grantchester.  Based on the The Grantchester Mysteries, by James Runcie, Grantchester is a detective drama set in the eponymous English village during the 1950's.  Local vicar Sidney Chambers becomes a sleuth in his spare time, somewhat to the chagrin of Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, who grudgingly helps the young vicar.

Also new in series...

  The first season of both The Red Road and Black Sails.  The Red Road has police officer Harold Jensen battling trouble on both the home and crime fronts, while Black Sails transpires more fancifully among pirates on New Providence Island, serving as a kind of prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  




New Documentaries

HERB & DOROTHY 50 X 50

Herb and Dorothy Vogel were civil servants (he a postal worker, she a librarian) who amassed an amazing collection of modern art, filling their small New York apartment to bursting.  Eventually, the extraordinary collection collection was donated to the National Gallery.  But the art-collecting couple were not done.  Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50 picks up their story as the pair launch an organization that eventually donated 2,500 works to 50 institutions in all 50 states.  

The library also has the documentary that started it all, the award-winning Herb & Dorothy.  

HAPPY VALLEY

We all know the story in its broad and tragic outline.  Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was reported to be, ultimately convicted as a serial child molester.  The scandal at Penn State expanded, bringing down the university's president and its beloved head football coach, Joe Paterno.  Writer and director Amir Bar-Lev was there from the time the story broke.  He chronicles not only the major events, but the reaction of a community distraught at the downfall of its football program which it had followed with something approaching religious devotion.  

FINDING FELA and ALGORITHMS:  BLIND CHESS PLAYERS OF INDIA

If you need something bit more inspiring, two other recent documentaries should do the trick.  The accomplished and very busy Alex Gibney (Enron:  The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, and a series of recent documentaries for HBO) gives us Finding Fela, about the extremely influential Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.  "Algorithms," meanwhile, tells the story of young chess players in India who dream of becoming grandmasters, undeterred by their lack of sight.

Classics

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY

During his time in America, Robert Siodmak was an accomplished director of film noir and horror.  The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is more a case of the former.  George Sanders (perhaps best remembered as the mordant drama critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve) stars as a bachelor living with his two sisters, all members of a formerly elite family reduced to more modest circumstances by The Great Depression.  But into Harry's dreary life comes desirable New Yorker Deborah Brown.  Will Harry marry Deborah and escape his sad bachelor's life at last?  Will manipulative sister Lettie allow such a thing?  Will the meek Harry finally snap?  There's a pretty good twist at the end of The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, so much so that the film's makers found it necessary to offer the following warning prior to the closing credits:  "In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending."  Find out for yourself, but please don't be a blabbermouth!

In addition to The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, the library has good examples of both Robert Siodmak's work in film noir and horror.  The latter is represented by The Spiral Staircase (1946). A serial killer is on the loose in early 20th century New England. Who is the killer?  And will his next victim be the sweet girl working for the bedridden Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore)?  Not for the last time in film history, a young woman is admonished, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!  As for Siodmak's considerable body of work in noir, we have a good example in The Killers (also 1946).  Based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway, The Killers has a young Burt Lancaster playing a character known as "The Swede," hiding out in a small town, waiting for two hit men and his past to catch up with him.  The femme fatale who got him into trouble in the first place.  None other than Ava Gardner.

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