Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
2010 USA/Spain/Frane. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
1997 USA. Director: Andrew Niccol. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman.
While Gattaca did not fly quite as far under the radar as The Man from Earth or Dark City, I cannot help but feel that it remains incredibly underseen and underappreciated. It is generally regarded as a strong film, to be sure, yet I would argue that it is among the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Nimbly toeing the line between the bleak and hectic Blade Runner and the philosophically draining The Man from Earth, Niccol’s universe not only feels realistic – it feels possible … if not probable. The physical presentation of the world is bleak, yes, but it is also vibrant and alive, crafting a future that is advanced, but not so advanced so as to be a distraction. This, of course, ignores the tremendous turns of Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, whose relationship is organic and beautiful. Uma Thurman is undoubtedly the weak link in the chain, but that may be as much a product of her underutilization, if not a side effect of the brilliance of most everything else.
Born to Kill
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Philip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr.
I hadn’t heard of this noir film until a friend of mine mentioned that he’d bought it and offered to lend it to me, and I ended up really liking it. But then, I like most noir, so that’s not really surprising. This one has a few intriguing twists on the genre, though, and two of the most watchably despicable characters I’ve seen for a while. Trevor’s next-door-neighbor gets killed by her jealous boyfriend (Tierney) when he catches her with another man (whom he also kills), but he escapes being noticed by Trevor, who discovers the bodies but then skips town rather than involve herself by, like, calling the police. She and Tierney end up on the same train, neither knowing who the other is, and their lives continue to be intertwined after that. Tierney is almost an homme fatale, the guy who simply won’t scram out of Trevor’s life and entrances her with his bravado and charisma, even though she knows he’s bad for her. But at the same time, she turns out to be hardly a straight-and-narrow kind of person herself, pulling double-cross after double-cross as she realizes who Tierney is (while Tierney interestingly stays pretty true to his admittedly amoral ideals). And of course, there’s the obligatory supporting turn from Elisha Cook, Jr., the staple of so many great noir films, and he’s just as great here as ever as Tierney’s mousy friend who has to do most of his dirty work. In fact, there’s great supporting work from everyone involved, especially Walter Slezak as a mostly kind but also kinda sleazy detective, and Esther Howard as a well-past-her-prime matron who doggedly pursues her friend’s killer – her performance and appearance may well bring new definition to the word “camp.”
1984 USA. Director: Michael Radford. Starring: John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton.
In my experience, it seems most every cinemaphile has at least one film on which his opinion differs greatly from the masses, for any number of reasons, ranging from worldview to minutiae … and 1984 represents my diamond in the rough. An incredibly ambiguous film, 1984 is defined by a tight narrative, bleak yet beautiful cinematography, and fantastic performances by John Hurt, Richard Burton, and Suzanna Hamilton. From credits to credits we are plunged into a nightmarish yet vibrant world, and imbued with a sense of dreadful familiarity with the circumstances surrounding the totalitarian society. Do not confuse this with an insinuation that 1984 is wholly relevant – while that may very well be the case, it is not the reason for its brilliance. Rather, 1984 connects with the deep-rooted doubts most have with figures of authority, and the pervasive fears of facelessness that plague us all from time to time. It does so not through heavy-handedness, but through clever, believable everyman personifications in Hurt and Hamilton and a disturbingly modern sense society.
Bringing Out the Dead
1999 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, Marc Anthony, Cliff Curtis.
Now that I’ve seen pretty much all of Martin Scorsese’s major films (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, that sort of thing) I’m moving onto the stuff he’s not as well known for, Bringing Out the Dead being one of them. Like most of Scorsese’s work (his pre-2000 work at any rate), this is a real experience but at the same time it’s quite different to a lot of what he’s done. Decisively weirder and more dream like; at times you’re not even sure what’s real and what’s not. And what a cast! With everyone from Nicolas Cage (somehow both subdued and crazy at the same time) and John Goodman to Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore, with a few of those “hey it’s that guy!” actors” thrown in for good measure, it’s fun film in a strange sort of way as you get to “spot the actor.” Definitely lesser Scorsese fair but a fascinating, trippy watch nonetheless.
Man on the Moon
1999 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti.
This is one I had been meaning to revisit for quite some time, having not watched in quite a few years. And it’s every bit as good as I remember it being, with Jim Carrey’s masterful performance as the late great comedian Andy Kaufman standing out as his best to date. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, and Carrey is fantastic in both, but it’s here where he gets to show off both his subtle dramatic acting ability with his gift for the physical and his ability to disappear into roles (when he chooses them carefully, mind you). But aside from Carrey the film itself is a great exploration of fame (and the difficulties thereof) and the subjectiveness of comedy.