Thursday, October 16, 2014

Watch This: Hostel

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Hostel (2006)
Written and directed by Eli Roth

The horror film has long been an unfairly maligned genre, despite its popularity among general audiences, and despite the fact that a number of the best films ever made (Nosferatu (1922), Psycho (1960), Dawn of the Dead (1978), to name just a few) fall within that genre.  The splatter film sub-genre, in which graphic displays of gore and violence take center stage, has especially been the target of widespread negativity, and its resurgence in the last decade has been no exception.  This recent wave of gore-centric horror films has been dubbed "torture porn" by critics, and while many of these films leave something to be desired (there is certainly some merit to the claim by the sub-genre's detractors that "gory" does not mean "scary"), one of the films that helped launch this trend, Eli Roth's Hostel, is far more creative, clever, and darkly funny than its subpar successors.  Roth infuses his film with the same combination of genuine dread, gruesome gore, sly commentary, and oddball dark humor that made his directorial debut Cabin Fever (2002) such a joy to watch.

Hostel follows American college students Josh (Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez) as they travel across Europe with their Icelandic friend Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson).  As the film opens, the three are in Amsterdam.  Paxton and Oli are eager to fulfill every hedonistic desire, but the more sensitive Josh, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, is clearly uncomfortable in this environment, and is reticent to engage in sexual activity, even though Paxton insists that he sleep with a "hot Euro chick" to help him get over his break-up.

They meet a young Eastern European man named Alex, who tells them about a hostel in Slovakia that is filled with beautiful women.  The three friends board a train for Slovakia.  They share a compartment with a Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasak, in a superbly discomfiting performance), who makes unsettling conversation and touches Josh's leg, leading to an outburst of protest from Josh.  They arrive at the hostel, where they are greeted by two beautiful young women, Natalya and Svetlana, who invite them to a spa and a disco.  At the disco, Josh has another encounter with the Dutch businessman, and their interaction opens up questions about Josh's sexual orientation.  Paxton and Josh end up spending the night with Natalya and Svetlana, but the next morning, Oli is gone, as is a Japanese girl who was also staying at the hostel.  A few scenes later, we see Oli's decapitated head on a table in a blood-spattered, dungeon-like room, and the Japanese girl strapped to a chair in a room down the hall.

Josh and Paxton decide to stay one more night, and at the disco, they are both drugged.  Josh wakes up strapped to a chair in the same type of dark, dirty room we saw earlier, where he is tortured and eventually killed by the Dutch businessman.  Paxton, who passed out in the disco's storage closet, makes his way back to the hostel, where he finds Josh is missing.  The local authorities are no help, and after Paxton tracks Natalya and Svetlana to a local pub, they tell him Josh and Oli are at an "art show."  Natalya agrees to take him there, and they arrive at a factory, where Paxton discovers the horrific sight of the Dutch businessman stitching up Josh's internal organs.  Paxton is dragged to another room and strapped to a chair.  Through a combination of luck and daring, Paxton manages to escape his torturer, and after a surreal encounter with a manic American businessman, who mistakes Paxton for a fellow paying customer (the organization responsible for arranging the gruesome killings calls itself "Elite Hunting"), he eventually makes his way out of the building.  Outside, he hears cries for help.  Will he choose to save himself, or will he go back and save the screaming victim?  And how will he make it out of town when so many local people seem to be involved in the conspiracy to lure potential victims to their demise?

While there is all the ample gore and nudity one often expects from this type of film, Hostel's clever narrative structure and formal playfulness make it clear that Roth had far more than just exploitation in mind when he made the film.  For example, Josh is positioned as the film's protagonist in the first half, with his sensitivity, his backstory of heartbreak, and the implication that he may be gay.  However, rather than exploring this dimension of the character, Roth kills him off halfway through, taking a page from the book of Alfred Hitchcock, who famously offed the protagonist of Psycho midway through the film.  The film's creative editing provides a good bit of morbid humor as well.  In one sequence, a close-up shot of a bolt cutter beginning to snip off a Japanese girl's toe cuts directly to another close-up shot of her friend clipping her toenail.  In a later scene at the factory, as Paxton hides on a cart of corpses being prepared for incineration, a butcher begins carving up bodies with a meat cleaver, and the scene is edited so that each cut between shots is matched to the sound of the cleaver cutting into flesh.

Roth also makes a direct link between sex and murder, both of which are seen as the fulfillment of fleshly desires.  Outside of the Amsterdam brothel, Josh says, "Paying to go into a room to do whatever you want to someone isn't exactly a turn-on," but the film suggests that there are indeed many people who would pay good money to do just that, although not in the way that Josh meant.  This idea is further enhanced by the mirroring of the early brothel sequence, in which Josh walks down the hall peering at the silhouettes of people engaged in an array of sexual activity, with the later sequence in the factory, where Paxton passes room after room of bloody victims being sliced, diced, and beaten.  There is certainly an element of voyeurism as both the film's characters and the viewer peer into each room, and during these and other sequences, especially those involving gore and nudity, the camera often seems to mimic a human gaze.

Hostel is obviously not for the squeamish, but there is more going on than just the superficial nudity and gore.  The film is critical of its characters' blind devotion to hedonism, and there is an implicit disapproval of the Americans' blatant disregard for any local culture or customs.  It is a warning to those who pursue worldly pleasures ahead of all else.

The film also hints that the desire to kill is an inherent part of human nature.  As one Elite Hunting customer says about the factory, "Be careful ... You could spend all your money in there."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Watch This: Ugetsu

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Ugetsu (1953)
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

The realm of Japanese cinema still rests in the shadow of its two best-known directors, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.  However, there are many who would rank the great Kenji Mizoguchi ahead of both Kurosawa and Ozu, and one could hardly fault them.  Mizoguchi's technical mastery earned him accolades from his filmmaking peers both in Japan and overseas, and his textured examinations of Japanese society, particularly its treatment of women, have led him to be regarded as one of the cinema's first feminist directors.  Mizoguchi, who died at the relatively young age of 58, directed nearly 100 hundred films over the course of his career, but his best work came in the last decade of his life.  He once said, "It was only when I passed 40 that I understood the human truths I want to express in my films," and the later years of his career are marked by a string of great films like Women of the Night (1948), The Life of Oharu (1952), Sansho the Bailiff (1954), and Street of Shame (1956).  His best film, and certainly one of the best films ever made, is Ugetsu (1953), a beautiful, fantastical, and haunting story of ambition and love set during the civil wars in sixteenth-century Japan.  It is also, perhaps appropriately for a post written in the month of October, a ghost story, although it is certainly a ghost story like no other.

The film follows two peasant brothers, the potter Genjuro and the farmer Tobei, both of whom are married and live in a rural village.  Both men are consumed by obsessive ambitions: Genjuro hopes to sell his pottery and become wealthy, while Tobei dreams of becoming a samurai.  Amid the threat of nearby fighting, they set off for the city.  Genjuro soon returns with a sack full of gold and new kimonos for his wife and child, but rather than staying home to enjoy this bit of prosperity with his family, he plans to make more pottery and set off again as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, Tobei tries to enlist in a samurai's army, but is turned away because he has no armor, and he returns home dejected and embarrassed.  Although their wives would gladly trade material wealth for lives of happiness and safety with their husbands, both brothers are eager to take advantage of wartime conditions and chase their dreams.

Soldiers raid their village, but Genjuro's pottery is unharmed, and again the two brothers set off for the city, this time with their wives accompanying them.  In one of the film's most visually striking scenes, they take a boat across a fog-blanketed lake, where an encounter with a passing boatman alerts them to further danger from pirates.  Genjuro's wife, Miyagi, is returned to the shore, but the other three continue on, undeterred by the danger.

In the city, Tobei becomes separated from his wife and brother.  Some time later, he kills a samurai and manages to fool a lord into giving him a house and men to follow him.  Tobei takes his men to a brothel, where he discovers that his wife has been working as a geisha since he abandoned her in the city.  Meanwhile, Genjuro's pottery sells quickly.  One of his customers is the mysterious noblewoman Lady Wakasa, who admires his work and invites him to her castle.  Even at first sight, Genjuro is entranced by her otherworldly beauty, and he is seduced soon after his arrival at her castle.  Genjuro soon realizes that Lady Wakasa is a ghost, and there is an unforgettable scene where Genjuro sees her castles as the charred ruin it truly is.

Toward the end of the film, both men have returned home, and both are forgiven by their wives for their foolish ambitions.  However, there is a surprise in store for both one of the brothers and the viewer, and unanticipated revelation about one of the characters that brings a haunting power to the film's conclusion.

While the film's protagonists are ostensibly the two brothers, it is really their two wives, Miyagi and Ohama, that give the film its emotional and thematic depth.  Genjuro and Tobei are blind to their wives' pleas for levelheadedness and domestic happiness, and the brothers' blind focus on foolish ambition is what leads the two women to their respective fates.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Ugetsu is Mizoguchi's seamless blending of realism and the otherworldly.  There is a seamless flow between the richly-detailed scenes of village and city life and the atmospheric, ethereal scenes involving Lady Wakasa.  This is a ghost story that is firmly entrenched in the reality of everyday Japanese life, a quality makes its impact that much greater.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Furniture Keeps Coming

We have received another shipment of furniture. Stop by and try it out.

And also, we are thankful to the SHGA for their donation of a stapler for the front desk.

October DVD Spotlight: Horror Films

It's October, and that means 'tis the season for scary movies!  Reeves Memorial Library will be celebrating Halloween all month long by featuring a select group of horror films from our DVD collection.  Included are classics and campy cult favorites from the silent era up to the present:

Audition (1999)
The Crawling Eye (1958)
The Exorcist (1973)
Hostel (2005)
Nosferatu (1922)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Psycho (1960)
Saw (2004)
The Shining (1980)

Come to the library and check these out ... if you dare.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Reserve a Study Room

In Griffin's Lair, click on the "Helpdesk" tab. Choose "Reserve a Room" in the left-hand navigation area, under "Help Requests."

STEP 1: View the schedule to assure the room you choose is available. (Click "View the Schedule)

Top left confirm the date---Top right limit to Reeves Study Rooms.

Return to the Griffin’s Lair Room Reservation page.

STEP 2: Select "Reeves - Study Rooms" and fill in the appropriate information.

STEP 3: Receive an email room confirmation.

Room requests are not final until a Room Confirmation is received. Requests sent late in the day (after 3:30) will not be processed until the next business day. Any rooms that have not been confirmed are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Watch This: Jurassic Park

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Last month saw the passing of the great British actor/director Richard Attenborough, whose career in front of and behind the camera spanned an astounding 65 years.  Attenborough directed the Oscar-winning epic Gandhi (1982), and is well-remembered for his classic portrayal of vicious hoodlum Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1947), but his most lasting cinematic legacy may be his turn as billionaire theme park owner John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's hugely entertaining blockbuster Jurassic Park.  The film was adapted from the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton, whose Hammond was cold and greedy.  The Hammond of the movie, in contrast, is kind and benevolent, though no less hubristic, and Attenborough imbues him with an almost childlike sense of excitement about his newest theme park attractions.

The film follows a small group of visitors (scientists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, mathematician Ian Malcolm, lawyer Donald Gennaro, and Hammond's two grandchildren, Tim and Lex) as they take a preview tour of Hammond's new theme park, located on an island off the coast of South America.  Hammond's team has found a way to extract dinosaur DNA from blood found in mosquitoes frozen in amber millions of years ago, and to use the DNA to clone living dinosaurs.  Despite warnings from Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm that these creatures cannot be controlled, Hammond is determined to move forward with the opening of the park.  Of course, the tour does not go as planned, and a power outage resulting from the unscrupulous behavior of a park employee leads to a breakdown of the park's security systems.  With the dinosaurs loose on the island, the remaining visitors and park employees must fight for their survival.

Although the film features a talented ensemble cast, they're not given much in the way of character development (Attenborough's Hammond and Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm are both certainly memorable performances, as is Samuel L. Jackson's supporting turn as chief engineer Ray Arnold).  But it's easy to overlook this fault, because the real stars of the film are the dinosaurs, rendered through a combination of animatronics and computer-generated effects that still feel more realistic than many effects found in today's films.

In the 21 years since its original theatrical release, Jurassic Park has lost none of the magic that made it such a worldwide phenomenon.  There is an almost palpable sense of wonder that pervades the film itself (some credit must go to composer John Williams for his superb musical score), and it's easy to see why it captured the imaginations of moviegoers around the globe.  Spielberg has always been a master of grand-scale spectacle, and even with repeat viewings, the film's most thrilling sequences still amaze: the T-rex attack on the tour vehicles (beginning with the iconic moment featuring the cups of vibrating water), the gallimimus stampede, and Tim and Lex's game of cat-and-mouse with the velociraptors in the kitchen.

As was the case with the previous Watch This post about Titanic (1997), I feel like this is another instance in which most readers will have already seen the film at least once.  However, Jurassic Park is absolutely worth another visit, and should certainly prove a wonderful cinematic experience for first-time viewers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Naxos Music Library

We are excited to announce our new streaming music resource, Naxos Music Library, which is now available via the "Databases" page on the library's website.  Naxos has partnered with hundreds of music labels to digitize their CD catalogs, and over 1.4 million tracks are currently available, with more being added every week.  Whether you're a casual listener or a hardcore music aficionado, Naxos has something to meet your listening needs, with a wide range of genres from composers and artists all over the world.  Although the bulk of the database is classical music, you can also find jazz, folk music, opera, world music, gospel, musical theater, pop/rock (including country music), relaxation music, and even spoken word recordings.

You can search or browse by composer or artist, browse by genre, and access the database's extensive text-based information, which includes liner notes, composer/artist biographies, and libretti and synopses for hundreds of operas.  You can also listen to pre-created playlists, or create your own!  Naxos even offers a mobile app, so you can listen to the music on your smartphone anytime, anywhere.

We hope you'll enjoy this wonderful new resource as much as us, so check it out today!