Mini-Review: Deadfall

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Deadfall

The hook in Deadfall, or what pulls you into the story, is the inevitable collision course of events and people at a Thanksgiving dinner. From the start when a bank heist escape goes awry in a blizzard and characters split up, you can feel it coming. However, what keeps you engaged throughout is the characters and their personal journey leading up to the moment.

You have in the tale essentially four parallel story-structures surround the manhunt. There is Addison (Eric Bana) who takes off and tries to keep on the move and get to the US-Canada border, who while on the run encounters some foes and plays out some family traumas of his own. Liza (Olivia Wilde) who sets the collision course in motion by finding Jay (Charlie Hunnam) whose troubles and complications we are introduced to early.

Then there’s the law enforcement side with another family dynamic of Sheriff Marshall T. Becker (Treat Williams) and his daughter, a trooper named Hanna (Kate Mara). Lastly, the parents awaiting Jay, and little do they know the trouble coming with them, Chet (Kris Kristofferson) and June (Sissy Spacek). What occurs in the end is a tense, though not overly-melodramatic, confrontation. There is great acting throughout, particularly by Bana, and the story takes its time so there are stakes invested on behalf of characters who we now know and understand. Some of the explosive dynamics of the climactic sequence we know will occur, just not how, are set up wonderfully; but they have even more impact with the work that has been put into these personages.

Deadfall is a beautifully photographed film that doesn’t neglect development while creating a compelling crime thriller. It delivers plenty of shocks, heart and intelligence.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween: Carrie (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Carrie (2013)

I’m well past the point of complaining about remakes based on principal alone, as a matter of fact, the same goes for sequels too. In part, the reason for that is that it’s sort of a myopic view of things. Throughout the whole of film history there have been series of films that refused to die as well as stories that either we (or the studios) have not grown tired of. Stephen King, as much of an institution as he is, is still with us such that it may seem that three adaptations in 39 years of the tale being in print is a bit much, especially when the writer is in question is not only alive but prolific.

However, as I said, some tales just have a way of sticking around (in the words of King himself “Sometimes They Come Back”). Therefore, invalidity cannot be assigned based on the existence of this third version alone. The second being a 2002 rendition that I needed to be reminded just recently was actually a thing that I’d forgotten about.

With regards to the text itself, I am not a huge, huge fan of the book. I like it fine. However, when Stephen King recounted that early on he was dissatisfied enough to throw out his manuscript and it was his wife’s salvaging it and belief in the story that had him stick with it; I was not surprised. And, of course, I’m glad she did see something there because the rest, as they say, is history. It’s just that from among his oeuvre it never stuck out as a favorite, and it makes me glad I didn’t read him chronologically for that may have had me go on to other things. Prior to continuing, I must preemptively state that much of my discussion of this film will read like comparative analysis and fanboy whining. However, I’m left with little recourse since the version created here reads so much like a copy of the first.

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I do, however, share King’s own high regard for Brian De Palma’s version of the film. It’s a tremendous cinematic treatment of the tale that’s masterfully directed, but moreover, a lot of that success is due to Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s portrayal as the mother and daughter (earning each an Academy Award nomination), whose relationship is scarier than anything supernatural that occurs in the book or film.

However, owing to the fact that film was released in 1976, and so much has occurred in the world, some things in the tale needed to change. Due to the supernatural element added to the tale, this was never a film that caused too much hullabaloo with regards to its depiction of violence in schools (this recent Variety opinion piece not withstanding). This was a book that though occasionally banned, was never cited as the impetus for violence as his brilliant Rage was (written under his nom de plume Richard Bachman). Keeping all that in mind, as well as all the horrific incidences of bullying and school violence in the intervening years since the original big studio release and this one, something had to be altered to make this truly effective to a modern day sensibility.

Now, that’s not to say Carrie had to be altered to a point of un-recognition, or be tasteless and tactless in rendition, but while the situation she’s put in (the infamous inciting incident) does engender sympathy it seems a mere drop in the ocean compared to the stories of real life occurrences. Granted there are two escalations of Carrie’s humiliation with regards to that incident, however, it feels it needs a bit more.

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The incongruous and dated feeling that her humiliation gets is not aided by many production choices. In aesthetic terms the film feels stuck in many regards. While there are cell phones and an upload of the video to the internet some of the costuming (Miss Collins, the gym teacher’s attire) as well as the automobiles (all seeming to be of an older vintage) that had the film feeling stuck between a modern 1970s-set remake and an update that underscores the relative timidity of Carrie’s initial torturing. If anything the backward nature of the White house house should have stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the town.

Much of the discussion regarding the film and whether it works or not has surrounded Chloë Grace Moretz. If you look at my site you’ll see that in her breakout year she won my Entertainer of the Year Award. Clearly, I am admirer of her work in general. And where her involvement in this film falls short has more to do with production than anything on her part. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that all actors are artists, and the inclination of anyone remaking something is to put their own stamp on it. So expecting Moretz to reproduce Sissy Spacek’s turn is folly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you’re not casting someone to imitate someone else but rather for what they bring to the part. Considering she does have a past with horror, and vast experience, Moretz makes about as much sense as anyone. Things that were lacking with regards to building her performance have to do with editing (when it’d be more effective to see the results of what she’s doing rather than her reaction to it) but more often it’s actually in hair and make up. And I mean that in all seriousness.

There is a sequence of edits when the coach is trying to build her up and in some editing slight-of-hand she’s tidied so the barely-hidden, beautiful girl she is. The fact is more work needed doing to make Moretz seem more like a Carrie White than a Sue Snell. Her hair and dress both needed frumping up. It came off a bit too much like the glasses-and-a-ponytail gag in Not Another Teen Movie.

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Yet the biggest flat-lining in the film is the rote repetition of the exact story beats almost exactly as they happened before save with more advanced but inconsistently rendered CG. The wrinkles were often good (the principal’s inability to say the word “period,” Maggie’s self-mutilation, Tommy playing lacrosse, etc.) but these are all small things and when so much of the film is precisely the same, but emotionally flatter; you need more. There are occasional moments of viscera at the beginning and end but far too much “meh.”

“They’re all going to laugh at you,” Miss White says. This version isn’t quite laughable, but I was not impressed this time around at all.

4/10

Mini-Review Round-Up June 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Dracula 3D

Dracula 3D (2012, IFC Midnight)

This particular selection from Dario Argento was an official selection of last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was recently picked up by IFC Midnight here in the US. However, if you are a fan of his I would not recommend you go out of your way to acquire the film, as I did, and simply wait for it to roll around as a rental. If you are not familiar with Argento do not start here. I’d recommend Suspiria as a jumping off point.

Much of what’s unfortunate about this film is the disconnect between certain elements: there is throughout a very uneasy relationship between the well-photographed, geometrically intricate, well-lit shots; gorgeous production design and a tendency to go for really unconvincing and unfortunate CG. This is not just a complaint about CG blood, but larger elements. Much of the CG blood usually upon opening wounds and then the close-ups use practical effects well.

An issue of a less nitpicky nature is the that there isn’t a consistent enough progression and amplification of stakes and incidents. Argento has always had a leaning to a slow-burning style but there there’s not a lot of intrigue to buffer that slight build here. Those peaks where there are spikes in the action, where we need to feel the oomph, are usually undercut by the CG work.

The scoring is great, and minus some seriously off moments by some lesser players the acting is good to passable. One thing that had me searching online after it was over was that there is a veritable bestiary of creatures that this Dracula can become. This is not inaccurate, but with the redefinition that cinema has had in various versions over the years it rather took me aback without a more overt introduction in this tale. However, it really is the stuttering pace, the disjointed nature of certain elements and fairly lifeless final third that keep this version from staying afloat.

5/10

Deadfall

Deadfall (2012, Magnolia Pictures)

The hook in Deadfall, or what pulls you into the story, is the inevitable collision course of events and people at a Thanksgiving dinner. From the start when a bank heist escape goes awry in a blizzard and characters split up, you can feel it coming. However, what keeps you engaged throughout is the characters and their personal journey leading up to the moment.

You have in the tale essentially four parallel story-structures surround the manhunt. There is Addison (Eric Bana) who takes off and tries to keep on the move and get to the US-Canada border, who while on the run encounters some foes and plays out some family traumas of his own. Liza (Olivia Wilde) who sets the collision course in motion by finding Jay (Charlie Hunnam) whose troubles and complications we are introduced to early.

Then there’s the law enforcement side with another family dynamic of Sheriff Marshall T. Becker (Treat Williams) and his daughter, a trooper named Hanna (Kate Mara). Lastly, the parents awaiting Jay, and little do they know the trouble coming with them, Chet (Kris Kristofferson) and June (Sissy Spacek). What occurs in the end is a tense, though not overly-melodramatic, confrontation. There is great acting throughout, particularly by Bana, and the story takes its time so there are stakes invested on behalf of characters who we now know and understand. Some of the explosive dynamics of the climactic sequence we know will occur, just not how, are set up wonderfully; but they have even more impact with the work that has been put into these personages.

Deadfall is a beautifully photographed film that doesn’t neglect development while creating a compelling crime thriller. It delivers plenty of shocks, heart and intelligence.

8/10

Room 514

Room 514 (2012, Film Movement)

This film contains one of the slyest, most telling pieces of foreshadowing I’ve seen in some time. I won’t give it away, but as I reflected on this film it seemed to me to be a modern, Israeli-set version of A Few Good Men. The drama is more intimate and behind closed doors, but what the film is about is the people and how they react in a given set of circumstances rather than what the consequences for said action is. The comments both societal and militaristic have been made and the story is at an end. The outside world may never feel any ramifications or repercussions from what occurred, but those behind said closed doors do.

What director Sharon Bar-Ziv achieves is an intimate tale not only in terms of the number of participants but also in the frame. There are many times where there is scarcely background to be spoken of as two faces, within very close proximity to one another, dominate our view. Their is an intense focus on the characters studying one another and we in turn study them and not only how they react to one another but also what they are saying.

For a film of this nature to achieve maximum effectiveness it needs great acting and it gets that from its three main players: Asia Naifeld, Guy Kapulnik and Udi Persi. Neifeld plays Anna the Military Police interrogator at the center of virtually every scene and her performance is a veritable tour de force. Her choices as an actress are as clear as the convictions of her character and really help bring this film home. It’s a fascinating tale that is worth your time as it really and truly engages you.

Room 514 will be available on home video from Film Movement on 6/18.

9/10

Brooklyn CastleBrooklyn Castle (2012, Millennium Entertainment)

A few things with regards to documentaries that most of the good ones prove true is that: the quality of the documentary is determined by the filmmaking and not by the subject being examined, and, second, when making a documentary you have to go where the story is taking you and not the other way around.

Clearly if you enjoy chess this will be a film you are drawn to. However, this film works well enough, and focuses enough on its the people involved and their journey, such that it should connect with anyone and everyone.

While the story of a junior high school (I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, NY) where the chess team not only excels in unparalleled ways, but also where the players not the outcasts but some of the most popular kids in school, is certainly enough of a hook; it carries even further significance following the recent economic crash. While we engage readily in the personal struggles, victories and defeats big and small alike, there is a greater game at play as budgeting becomes a large concern of the film and the importance of extracurricular activities in the lives of students, both academically and otherwise, is made abundantly clear.

It is the people whom we get to know that drive and tell this story. What the filmmakers do is craft the tale for maximum efficacy that allows you to connect with the tale. An perhaps having seen a successful program personified it may convince others of the vitality they possess and why they should be preserved. It really is a great film that will put a smile on your face, get your rooting for these kids and make you wish all students had a program like it available to them.

10/10

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012, Strand Releasing)

There is an odd concoction of elements that the Ghastly Love of Johnny X is trying to blend. Its charms, however, are not enough and the spell it attempts to weave doesn’t have enough staying power to make it a truly successful venture.

What it does well is riff on nuance pretty brilliantly, create some memorable lines, it’s odd and unique and has its moments in terms of cinematography, production design and musically (in terms of arrangement if not always the singing – yes, it’s a musical too).

All that sounds good and the tale of a man exiled from his home planet to earth to wander with a gang of ’50s style hoods and try to earn his way home does have potential. The issues it ends up facing are that it devolves into being what it seeks to emulate in the worst ways as opposed to transcending to it while still making us laugh at its tropes; namely a cheesy ’50s movie except this one plays quite a few genres at once. In short, the pace begins to suffer; there are touches slightly too modern; the plot, goals and motivations of characters become muddled and the comedy starts to click less consistently.

Also, as a musical there are some very long stretches between some of the numbers that are far too big. It’s not an entirely regrettable experience, but one I can’t say I’d recommend.

4/10

Upstream Color

Upstram Color (Erbp, 2013)

The one thing I can advise potential viewers of this film is: you should not embark on this journey if you’re not ready to be challenged. If you’re looking for escapist hit-me entertainment, this isn’t it.

The film is quietly cacophonous and, on the surface, visually disjointed. This is all by design as, much like characters in the film, we go off in search of as to how and why things occur. The answers to the questions are not disseminated in an overt manner, but most of the ones that truly matter are there. Ones that seemingly aren’t would likely be there upon review, or aren’t as much of a concern.

The heavily visual nature of the film is among its greatest assets, along with its edit. Some of the performances and the sound work, and the plot that is unearthed, are among its more uneven elements. Ultimately, its the craftsmanship and artistry of the film that has it succeed in spite of its missteps.

It welcomes revisiting, debate and discussion but once most of its mystery fades, and its minor ambiguities settle in, there’s not as much impact as it seems to promise early on. It’d make a great double feature with Beyond the Black Rainbow; though I find this to be a better film in a similar vein.

7/10

The Giants

The Giants (Kino Lorber, 2011)

If there’s a trope, or worse yet a cliché, you can name in a coming-of-age film it’s very likely that The Giants sets you up to expect it and then subverts it. That is not to say you should approach this film with a checklist, but there are many times wherein either salvation or damnation threatens these characters, but what you see instead is maturation and survival. Brothers, Zak and Seth, along with their friend Danny are isolated both by circumstance and by choice. The adult world is an invasive burden on their existence but one they are ultimately forced to cope with by themselves.

The film has opportunities to embrace conventions either of dystopian coming-of-age stories, like Kids, or more utopian ones where despite all the travails the characters go through there’s a classical Hollywood ending. This film takes the road less traveled as often as possible when faced with a plot point that can be seen as fairly common and that choices pays off over and over again.

With parents that are perpetually absent without true explanation, it’s a tale essentially of individuation rather than any of the other pitfalls of growing up. There’s definitely no love interest in the tale, and, without station too much, if there is even any true commentary on sexuality is left ambiguous.

The restraint and certainty that the film has in the handling of its plot, edit and musical selections is matched by the young cast. This especially applies to Zacherie Chasseriaud shows the poise and control of a veteran from first scene when he deals with his mother’s absence and nearly cries, but doesn’t, through to the end.

Bouli Lanners does not seem to be going for either extreme of the emotional spectrum with this tale, but rather and accurate portrayal of kids in circumstances out of the ordinary forced to grow up. They are neither idealized through nostalgia or auteristic proclivity nor are they “gritty” just for the sake of it. Elements that could be used for shock value in less-skilled hands here are what they are, meaning part of their existence and are there without commentary. The Giants is a highly effective, well-crafted tale deserving of a larger audience.

10/10

Kai Po Che!

Kai Po Che! (2013, UTV Motion Pictures)

I took a Bollywood film course which got my feet wet in the style of popular cinema that emerges from India in college. Since then I can’t say I’ve taken many forays back there again, though both Netflix and certain multiplexes make it a distinct possibility. However, what I’ve noticed in my last few forays (Namely Zokkomon and Chillar Party) is that there are stories that have featured aspects of subgenres and tales tied together by approximately a half dozen montages throughout a two-hour-plus film.

This film is about three friends who want to start a cricket supply store/training academy. The motivation for each to get involved is different and there are different narrative threads throughout. There is the assisting the underdog plot which leads into the sociopolitical commentary the film has to make, that eventually becomes a factor in the friendship. While there are not non-diegetic bursts of song there is source music during said montages. There is a romantic subplot, which links its way into the interaction of these friends and so on.

While the sports theme is always there, and as tends to happen I picked up a bit more about cricket through this film, it never becomes a sports film per se. It essentially remains a slice-slice-of-life drama with much fenestration throughout that charts many years in the lives of this group of friends.

The film through judicious editing tells a lot of story in not a lot of time and handles its tonal shifts fairly well and it is very capably performed. It’s an entertaining film, and I hope to be able to catch some more recent titles from India before the year is out.

7/10

Imaginaerum

Imaginaerum (2012, Solar Films)

What the Finnish symphonic metal group Nightwish brings with this film is not so much a musical but a film built around music. It’s the visual accompaniment to their concept album that’s the kind of thing that I would’ve liked to have seen from the titans of the music video form at their zenith as well. Having said that there is not much at all un-cinematic about this tale, quite to the contrary.

What Imaginaerum is, is a mind-play and it implements the inner-workings of a man’s psyche and imagination to create a personal and engaging fantasy. Throughout symbols consistently come to the fore and return to create their meaning to tell the tale of a quasi-willful descent into dementia, and what precipitated it all.

The way in which it does all this is a gradual process and the implementation of the music, which is fantastic, is always at the service of the narrative. In other words, it gets the equation right and doesn’t live to support the music but the music serves to buoy the tale.

There is fine editing, cinematography, production design and quite a few good special effects throughout. The film is also aided by very engaging performances by Joanna Noyes and Quinn Lord.

This film is not readily available in the US, but fans of Nightwish and inventive cinema should seek it out.

8/10

Upside Down

Upside Down (2012, Millennium Entertainment)

It’s all too easily to come out swinging at Upside Down. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the story does hold a lot of potential. The issues the film faces, and never really overcomes, are two-fold: firstly, the film starts with a long, overly-storybook, poorly-delivered voice over explaining the rules of the solar system wherein the story takes place. This type of exposition can be overcome but when you feel like you’ll be tested on rules and plot points at the end it’s the wrong foot to start on. Second, whether or not the science fiction element of the tale is hokey becomes irrelevant because, and it is honest about this at least, it’s perhaps one the most over-fenestrated love stories yet told.

The science fiction aspect makes shallow, general observations that could apply to any place or time, and they are not the point, which makes the facade quasi-farcical and cumbersome. There are some clever things that occur as the story progresses, which owe their debt to rules-establishing, but it’s little more than smoke and mirrors.

It’s a creative film visually, but it’s the same story that’s been told countless times on fancy, colorful stationery; thus it’s a highly redundant experience of little value save for the superficial.

4/10

23:59

23:59 (2011, Magnet Releasing)

Where this film succeeds in in bringing oral history and the element of fireside horror stories into a mostly cohesive narrative. Where it finds troubles is unfortunately towards its ending. What was a very simple and straightforward story decides it’s going to take a dip into the coy and vague.

Sadly, the ending though does feel a bit of a letdown and incongruous when it first occurs is truly symptomatic of the lack of ebb and flow of the film as whole. During act one, when most of the flashbacks are occurring there are some good moments, and maybe even a shock or two, as the suspicions of what’s really occurring come to the fore the film becomes increasingly uninteresting and uninspired.

The ending is the built-to whimper rather than a necessary jolt.

5/10

Hanson Re Made In America

Hanson Re Made in America (2013, 3CG)

As I tweeted when I recently acquired tickets to one of their upcoming tour dates, I’m no longer in high school so I really don’t care who knows about this fandom of mine at this point – like what you like and haters be damned. However, a large part of the reason I include this review in this round-up is not just the fact that this self-produced documentary does qualify, but it’s a further chronicle of the band’s trajectory as indie musicians that may surprise those who still wrongly perceive the group as a “one hit wonder.”

Granted there isn’t the turmoil in this narrative that there was in Strong Enough to Break, a doc that was put together over the course of many years that chronicled the group’s failed attempt to release their third studio album with a major label and the ultimate formation of their indie label 3CG; but anyone interested in a glimpse of the creative process, regardless of the form it takes, will be interested in this film. While many of the discussions occur in a vernacular all their own that doesn’t always necessarily incorporate musical jargon you do eventually see the follow-through and progression as the tracks are laid down.

Aside from just not following as tumultuous a time in their career the film’s climax has its literal, if not figurative, fireworks and not too much else. The only other slightly disappointing thing is that certain processes of creating an album like additional recordings and overdubs are explained in a cursory manner, but they can seem redundant to the layman. This is a doc recommended for fans and music enthusiasts. Fans of music, Hanson specifically, and film in general, are urged to watch Strong Enough to Break.

6/10

My Year in Film: 1994

First, a tip of the hat to @bobfreelander who was the first I saw doing retroactive year-in-review posts and why I will do a few. Now, while I will be able to contextualize my picks to an extent I cannot be as anal retentive as I wanted to. Ideally, I would’ve loved to say I saw these movies in the year in question and these later, but I cannot with any degree of accuracy. The reason this matters to me is that I was 13 to 14 when these films were being released. Now I, unlike many students around me when I was in school, have been able to exonerate many films I saw before studying films formally from over-analysis. So while many are getting a pass or some sentimental value attached to them I shall not disown them, they are still me. Much in the way I am no longer making BAM Awards for years where I didn’t actively track releases, I am also not changing winners as I did on rare occasions in my teens. This list like those awards are a snapshot, time can reshape one affection for a film, whether heightening or lessening it but the films that mark that year for you mentally remain pretty much identical.

I start with 1994 in part because it was a great year for me in general, I was out of sixth grade and into 7th and 8th and I rather enjoyed Junior High where using your mental faculties to achieve a heightened sense of immaturity was rewarded, at least amongst my circle of friends. Sports-wise it was a great year as my faith in my beloved New York Rangers was rewarded, I knew it’d be a championship season in pre-season and it was. Then not too long after I saw Brazil win its 3rd World Cup while visiting my family.

Not that movies lagged that far behind, if at all. Many of these films, whether I saw them during the calendar year or soon thereafter, have been favorites for many years.

The films are in no particular order.

1. Satantango

Sátántangó (Kino Lorber)

I’ve been meaning to give this film an annual viewing but at 7+ hours in length it is very hard to schedule. I first heard about this film in college when it wasn’t readily available on DVD but I hunted it down. Having it was like having gold such that I even loaned it to a professor once. It’s an impressive example of story-telling muscle-flexing as it goes back and forth in time with many events repeating at intersecting points of perspective, as we follow characters and see certain events over through their eyes. Its ending is a shocking as such a minimalist ending can be and gives me goosebumps every time.

2. Milk Money

Milk Money (Paramount)

Here’s one I could’ve seen in ’94 but didn’t. In a world where I didn’t have a computer or access to the IMDb I couldn’t confirm my casting misconceptions, namely at the time I confused one of the girls in a quick shot in the trailer with Anna Chlumsky. I did eventually see it on HBO and this was where my admiration for Melanie Griffith originated and I hunted down practically everything she did after seeing it. Now hooker with a heart of gold stories weren’t new to me even then but the context and the slightly verboten yet laissez-fair handling of this one along with its outcome are a major part of what won me over.

3. Once Were Warriors

Once Were Warriors (Fine Line Features)

When the Independent Film Channel (IFC) first hit the airwaves I watched it practically every night for a week, and as an atypical teen movie fan I craved something different and I got it. This is a harrowing tale of a Maori family in New Zealand. I’m not even sure if I’ve even revisited it. Even if I have it could surely qualify as a film you only need to see once.

4. Disclosure

Disclosure (Warner Bros.)

This is a great film. Yes, it’s true Michael Douglas gets Michael Douglas-ed in it, if you’ve seen enough of his films you get what I mean, but sexual harassment was a hot button issue in the country as there was a politically correct renaissance about and to flip expectations to have an actress like Demi Moore, in likely her best role, in that position make it a compelling drama.

5. The War

The War (Universal)

For those of you who may have been asleep during the 90s and didn’t know, Elijah Wood was one of the most prodigious child actors who ever graced the silver screen. This film of his is his most criminally under-seen. It’s a great allegorical tale wherein Wood does his most serious work as a youth but he’s supported by Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham and Lexi Randall. If you’ve never seen this film do yourself the favor.

6. Little Giants

Little Giants (Warner Bros.)

G-Men! OK, if you read my intro you probably surmised I’m a native New Yorker, however, that’s not the only reason that this film makes the list, there are some others. It is smart that this film does play into actual NFL rivalries and takes the Bad News Bears motif to football but there’s some more to it. Part of it has to do with seeing Ed O’Neill in a movie and perfectly cast, it being one of Rick Moranis’ last theatrically released films plays into it some. Yet it’s also about the team, which plays into the appeal of any underdog story, and also it may be the most effective rivalries in terms of having certain off-the-field relationships with the opposition.

7. A Feast at Midnight

A Feast at Midnight (Live Entertainment)

This is a film that I found a few years later. One thing that’s refreshing about it is that it’s a tale of boarding school mischief that doesn’t get too dark. Essentially the boys at this school are tired of their crap food. They learn to cook and bake and sneak about in the dead of night to have proper feasts. More comedy and tension are added by Christopher Lee who plays the headmaster who they refer to as a dinosaur and many scenes play out as homages to Jurassic Park, which are just brilliantly done.

8. Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya on 42nd Street (Sony Pictures Classics)

If I recall correctly this was an impromptu purchase. I typically used my weekend allowance to take a bus to the multiplex and then to the mall after to pick up another film. This was likely one of them. It didn’t lead me to instantly pursue more Chekhov but it was the spark that opened the door for my appreciation of his work.

9. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before? I didn’t see it in 1994 as it was slightly before I discovered Stephen King, and my life forever changed. I saw it later and I saw it before I read it, and I learned Frank Darabont is a King adaptation master, and this is his best work.

10. North

North (Columbia Pictures)

Here’s the section of the list where I’ll place a couple of movies you likely hate and I hope you’ll do me the kindness of scrolling past them if you do hate them rather than closing your browser window. For those of you who are still with me, I can even understand how you can dislike North and It’s Pat, the latter much more than the former. However, with this one I really don’t get how some claim its one of the worst things ever. Yes, it’s another Elijah Wood title and while here he’s more comedic this one really does have more to do with the concept than him or the supporting all-star cast. It’s a wish-fulfillment story and yes, based on the tale you know where it’ll likely end up, but that doesn’t stop it from being a very effective fantasy in my estimation.

11. It’s Pat

It's Pat (Touchstone Pictures)

I get it on this one, OK? Pat is gross, that’s what makes the sketch funny for those who do think it’s funny. I’d say this is likely the most avoided and reviled SNL-sketch based feature of them all, I will not claim that it’s the best, but I do like it. Julia Sweeney is a very underrated comedienne and this is her best character.

12. The Little Rascals

The Little Rascals (Universal Pictures)

I can’t remember if I ever consciously wanted to see this movie but having younger siblings it was acquired on home video and I ended up watching it many times and I ended up liking it quite a bit also. Looking back you could almost draw a parallel between this and The Three Stooges in as much as those actors were The Little Rascals, so theoretically a remake shouldn’t work but it was cast so well and the story was very much in the spirit of the original with minor updates such that it works very well.

13. Airheads

Airheads (20th Century Fox)

When you rely on cable television for your viewing you can end up watching things over and over whether you want to or not. An example or not would be Empire Records, I have no idea what convinced me that seeing it over and over would change my opinion of it. It just kept getting suckier. This I liked right away and wanted to see many times over, it’s just a hilarious and well executed premise.

14. The Client

The Client (Warner Bros.)

Joel Schumacher can be very divisive and I certainly cannot defend all of his films. However, those that I can I will tooth and nail. This is one of them. I watched The Client many years later and it has in it perhaps one of the tensest first acts I can recall. It doesn’t let up much from there.

15. Speed

Speed (20th Century Fox)

Here’s a film that’s become a bit of a punching bag in hindsight. I will grant there is a level of silliness to it, however, if you get past the whole 50 MPH thing, (which I have) it rather works. Also, one must bear in mind that this was really Sandra Bullock’s breakout role so she was new to us and about to be beloved by many. Also, this is Keanu many roles before we saw that being Keanu is about the extent of his range.

16. Trading Mom

Trading Mom (Trimark Pictures)

This is a film that it took me a while to track down, eventually it debuted on cable. My willingness to see it was mostly due to Anna Chlumsky’s involvement. It would be a great double-feature with North as there are similar themes to it, Wanting to Change Parents but Realizing Yours Are the Best, however, it also features a great performance by Sissy Spacek in many incarnations. Its a more down-to-earth and stripped-down version of the aforementioned premise that still works rather well.

17. Serial Mom

Serial Mom (Savoy Pictures)

I’ve seen this movie a lot of times but none very recently. This could be John Waters at his demented best. This is where I not only learned a rule of fashion but also got “Day Break” stuck in my head for life. Kathleen Turner is incredible in this.

18. The Hudsucker Proxy

The Hudsucker Proxy (PolyGram)

I avoided this film for a long time for a number of reasons. I like Coens films when I watch them but my viewership of their filmography is very incomplete, the title and description also made it seem like it couldn’t be that interesting. It’s perhaps the best argument for just watching the movie. I love it.

19. Major League II

Major League II (Warner Bros.)

As opposed to the sequel later in this list this is one that I think I like more than the original. It’s sillier, funnier and doesn’t take the high road in the ending but those are all things I like about it. Plus, taking the approach that this team overachieved and now rests on its laurels and struggles is pretty smart and true to life.

20. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Warner Bros.)

It’s a very simple discussion when dealing with Jim Carrey: Either you love the over-the-top end of his comedic repertoire or you hate it. I love it and Ace Ventura is the prime example of this facet of his gifts.

21. Trevor

Trevor

This film I first saw only last year. It’s the only short on this list. It’s almost more important for its significance than the film itself for this film is what spawned The Trevor Project. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that it really was ahead of the zeitgeist in terms of a hot button issue. It deals with a youth struggling with his sexuality and is suicidal. It won an Oscar after it was made and was re-introduced in a TV special hosted by Ellen DeGeneres but now it has a third incarnation as The Trevor Project is one of the most notable and active NGOs in the nation right now. Granted its a film buoyed by its message and its significance but few films, especially shorts, have this kind of track record so far as reemergence and staying power are concerned.

22. Menino Maluquinho- O Filme

Menino Maluquinho - O Filme (Filmes Europa)

Below you will see another comic character that I love come to life. I saw this a few years after the release of the film. This film benefits from the fact that though this character is featured in Brazilian comic strips he originated in graphic novels and this film tackles the story told in the first of those books for the most part and that streamlines things and makes the interpretation very pure.

23. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump (Paramount)

This is another film that has become somewhat of a punching bag over the years. Taking the visceral arguments out of the equation (for I do like and connect to the film) the significance of this film in certain cinematic is in fact that it breaks rules about a passive protagonist, in that it employs one, and it works very, very well. You’d be hard pressed to find many other situations where it would but here no doubt it does. I predicted Tom Hanks would win the Oscar on the eve of the show when asked, and not only was I right but I was pleased. It’s another question of time. Hanks has become more interested in producing and has become an Oscar ceremony staple but I’d never question his merits in the roles that won him statues.

24. Little Odessa

Little Odessa (Fine Line Features)

Here is another IFC special. I did revisit this one at least once. It’s a tremendously underrated film and features a great turn by Edward Furlong before his depressing decline.

25. Richie Rich

Richie Rich (Warner Bros.)

Macaulay Culkin is precisely 364 days older than I am, so his stardom was kind of a big deal for me growing up for he was, and is, essentially my age. Furthermore, add the fact that here he was interpreting one of my favorite comics characters of all time and this was going to be a must see for me. Now, here’s an example similar to one you’ll see below where the star and the involvement in a project is more significant to than the film, for I definitely nitpick this one and the follow ups (though they be Culkin-less) it wasn’t an interpretation completely without merit, I did like a lot of it.

26. Blue Chips

Blue Chips (Paramount)

Another cable special and another I’ve given many viewings. Nick Nolte is, as he tends to be, brilliant in this film. However, what really elevates this film for me is the great examination of the moralistic quagmire that amateur athletics are. Nolte’s confession speech while rather unrealistic in a real context, as sports fans know all too well, allow for the film to really expose the inevitability of star athletes getting perks and incentives to go to certain colleges.

27. My Girl 2

My Girl 2 (Columbia Pictures)

Alright, no My Girl 2 is not a great film, there are a few entries on this list I wouldn’t call great. As I mentioned in my introduction that’s not quite the point of this post. It was a film that was overly delayed, in my estimation, and brought a new writer into the fold but the fact of the matter is it’s the sequel to what was at the time my favorite movie ever, and a film I still have a great affection for, so that makes this notable. It’s a film I do pick nits with endlessly but the fact that it matters to me cannot be denied.