It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was really less than two decades when me and my soon-to-be-wife were living in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington would normally be a small town in the middle of farm country were it not for the university. But getting an influx of 30,000 students every year plus all the professors, administration, and people needed to keep such a large institution running (not to mention all the various shops, restaurants, bars, etc. that feed off of it) turned what would have been a one-horse town into a rather metropolitan oasis.
It wasn’t big enough (nor far away enough from Indianapolis) to draw big musical acts but it did manage to get some really great artists either on their way up to being a much bigger draw or on their way down after losing their fame. I saw Wilco there twice, Lucinda Williams, Sam Bush, The Indigo Girls, and a host of other great acts in small venues. The university had a wonderful music school that performed some great classics and annual operas. There was plenty of great restaurants boasting some fine international cuisine (and even a Tibetan place ran by the Dali Lama’s family).
They had a couple of nice movie houses and a roving independent theater. The people that ran the latter were unable to purchase an actual building (and rumor had it that the more traditional cinemas in town were blocking them at every step) so they would show art-house and independent films in the local pizza place and in various classrooms on campus.
It was there that I first saw Ghost World - Terry Zwigoff’s bittersweet tale of two lost girls growing up and the geek they befriend. It's funny to think of now but at the time Steve Buscemi was the biggest name in a film that also stars Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson.
Having just graduated high school, Birch and Johansson find themselves struggling to grow up in a world that doesn’t make much sense to them. In school, the pair were outcasts but banded together in order to sarcastically make fun of everything, but now they have to get jobs and join the “real world.” As a joke, they set up the nerdy Steve Buscemi on a blind date and mock him as he sits alone. But eventually they warm to the lovable loser and find that he is comfortable in his own skin, no matter how strange it is.
Or something. It's been a long time since I’ve watched it, but I remember thinking as I watched it in that uncomfortable university classroom that I was watching something unique and fascinating. Criterion is giving it their usual royal treatment and I’m excited to see how well its held up.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Before I Fall: A more serious-sounding, teenage version of Groundhog’s Day. Zoey Deutch stars as a typical teenager doing typical teenager things until she dies and finds herself stuck in the same day over and over again, forcing her to examine her and her friends lives.
Collide: Action adventure about a backpacker who gets involved with a ring of drug smugglers and gets chased across Munich’s high-speed freeways. Stars Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Ben Kingsley, and Anthony Hopkins. That’s a lot of really good actors in what sounds like a pretty dumb action flick.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Lucy Boynton and Kiernan Shipka star in this horror film about a couple of girls who get left behind at their boarding school over winter break when all sorts of creepy things start happening. Also stars Emma Roberts and it was directed by Anthony Perkins' son.
Martin Scrosese’s World Cinema Project, No. 2 (Criterion Collection): Contains five films from around the world hand-picked by Scorsese and with Criteron’s usual (fantastic) packaging. Films include Instant from the Phiippines, Mysterious Object at Noon from Thailand, Revenge from Korea, Limite from Brazil, and Law of the Border from Turkey.
Spotlight on a Murderer: This mystery from acclaimed French director Georges Franju finds a rich count dying in a secret alcove, causing his heirs to search desperately for him even as they begin dying off themselves. Is it coincidence, accident, or murder? With this fancy looking Arrow Academy release, we can all find out in style.
Evil Ed: Arrow Video spiffs up another ridiculous low-budget horror film for the masses. In this one, a mild-mannered film editor is assigned to cut a series of slasher films and is driven murderously insane by all the on-screen violence.
The Shiek / The Son of the Shiek: Two silent era classics that made Rudolph Valentino a gigantic star comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino-Lorber. [Read Luigi Bastardo's review.]
The Last Kingdom: Season 2: Based on a series of novels The Last Kingdom is a historical fiction series from the BBC and Netflix. Set in late 9th century A.D., it tells interweaving tales of when England was divided into seven separate kingdoms. Sounds interesting.
The Shack: A religious friend of mine once let me borrow this book saying that it had really challenged him to think deeply about his faith. I couldn’t get more than a few chapters into it. Something about people literally arguing with God (who takes the form of an old black woman) seems kind of silly to me. But I seem to be in the minority as the book was a huge hit and now there is a film based upon it.
Speed Racer: Complete Series: The popular Japanese cartoon from the sixties (which got something of an American revival in the '90s) gets a nice boxed set.
Fist Fight: Ice Cube and Charlie Day star in this comedy about a mild-mannered teacher being challenged to a fight by the school’s toughest educator. Also stars Christina Hendricks, Tracy Morgan, and Dean Norris.