Monday, November 19, 2007

Movie Recommendations

Erik asked me for some movie recommendations. Here's some good flicks I found with "weight " that will help you get through the writer's strike. I tried to limit the movies to those that have some suspense, taught drama, or unexpected twists.

A murphy's law thriller in the tradition of hitchcock. Kurt Russel and his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) break down along some desert highway. As help turns into menace, all hell breaks loose. There's two types of people in the world - people who love the late great J.T. Walsh, and idiots. See him here in one of his best and last performances, and prepare to squirm. Plot twists abound, and you'll get your over the top end that befits a movie like this. A great potboiler of suspense, that won't leave you emotionally drained.

The Spartan
Val Kilmer is a secret service agent, tracking down a politician's daughter who has been abducted. Things are not what the seem from beginning to end. David Mamet's snappy dialog keep things moving along. Kilmer needs a good project to shine, and he gets one here.

A Simple Plan
The movie that took Bill Paxton out of my favorite bad actors category and put him in my favorite actors category. Some rural residents find lost blood money during some winter hunting. Moral disintegration and danger ensues. Billy Bob Thorton and Bridgette Fonda are inconsistent actors, but they deliver here.

You might have seen this, but if you didn't - put it at the top of your queue. Nicolas Cage plays a socially retarded writer, and his own twin brother. Amazing script that turns inside out on itself. Cage is always his best doing comedy. There's some real depth here, and you'll see some brilliant screenwriting in action.

This one's a heart breaker. Nick Nolte plays a self-destructive, paranoid drunk who sabotages what's left of his miserable life. The best part - his dad is an even more destructive drunk, perfectly cast with James Coburn. Understand how pathetic fathers beget pathetic children. Dramatic closing scene - check.

Shallow Grave
An early Ewan Macgregor film - and another "what happens to people when they find illegal money". Less about human drama than a simple plan, but way more hitchcockesque suspense. This money makes these people go muthafucking batty. Look for the "shafts of light through the ceiling" scene - that's some good movie-making right there.

Why settle for hitchcockesque, when you can have Hitchcock himself? If I had to recommend one Hitchcock film (or one Jimmy Stewart film for that matter), I'd pick this one. As always, Hitchcock casts a smokin' hottie - Kim Novak, as the female lead. Weird twins and a mobius strip of a plot make this feel like Hitchcock traveled through time, dropped some acid with David Lynch before traveling back to film this. In fact, I don't know if Mullholland Drive could have been made with Vertigo.

This is the watershed moment for 1980's Anime. The animation isn't dated at all - and because its set in furturistic tokyo, neither do the cultural references. A post apocalyptic Japan finds repressed biker hoodlums battling against mysterious goverment forces who have abducted one of their own. Once he returns, they quickly learn that he has gain incredible and uncontrollable powers. but what has he given up in return? If you don't understand what all the hullabaloo about japanese animation is - rent this now. There are some more nuanced, emotionally complex anime that have been released stateside (Princess Mononoke, anyone?) But this is first, and best.

Seven Samurai
I can only recommend one Kurosawa movie? Shit. Might as well pick the incontrovertible winner. Remade many a time, a village under prey from bandits hire a throng of ronin samurai to protect them. Striking cinematography and directorial vision will please the cinephile, while a rousing script that combines action and human drama should leave everybody who can handle subtitles well satisfied.

Who says I can only recommend one - go get Yojimbo if you like this, and see Toshiro Mifune as the ultimate bad-ass. let me break it down, SAT style for you. Mifune is to Eastwood, as Eastwood is to 60 Minute's Morley Schaffer. In fact, Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo. For those looking for a samurai epic - rent RAN - Kurosawa's adaptation of King Lear.

The Ninth Gate
A great director guides a greater actor. Johnny Depp plays a smug book buyer who specializes in the rare and arcane. He is commissioned by a creepy patron (played with scenery chewing delight by character actor numero uno Frank Langella) to find a book written by the devil himself. About as convinced as the audience about the likelihood that such a manuscript could exist, Depp takes the sizable paycheck to conduct a skeptical search. Real or not, dangers mount up as he discovers other parties are interested. Deadly parties. Mwuh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha... excuse me.

Buffalo 66
Vincent Gallo's breakout film about a malcontent, recently released from jail - he writes directs and stars. His kidnapping of Christina Ricca to pose as his girlfriend is not really plausible, but the performances are salivation inducing. You usually don't walk away from movies this bitter with a smile on your face, but here's an exception. Personal faves Ben Garazza and Angelica Huston are priceless as vincent's parents. Look for Gallo's photo-booth instruction's to Ricci: "We're a couple... spanning time. Spanning time. Span time." You'll love it, or suck trying.

A Perfect World
Like a cicada, Every 8 years, Kevin Costner emerges from his cocoon of overwrought mediocrity to shine. It doesn't hurt that pre-hype Clint Eastwood directed this "perfect" gem. As a fugitive who stumbles into taking a small boy hostage, this movie creates one of the most three dimensional bad guys. The dramatic tension builds for a good payoff at the end.

Sure - you could rent the english speaking remake (I love Chazz Palminteri and he is great), but go old school and rent the original balck and white french flick. If you think your school was bad growing up - trust me, it wasn't as bad as this. The students don't really play much of role in this deadly game of deceit and subjugation. If you can't handle subtitles, the remake with Chazz, Sharon Stone (see, I told you to get the original) and Kathy Bates is adequate.

Red Rock West
A really weird suspense movie about a case of mistaken identity that compromises a niave drifter (Nic Cage) who blows through one of the most corrupt podunk in the west. You'd think Dennis Hopper would be the menacing heavy, but (not)surprisingly, J.T. Walsh upstages him.

I think you can only make a movie like this once. A man stricken with amnesia tries to piece his identity together in a very hazardous situation. The genius of this movie is that it proceeds in a fully reverse narrative - meaning the first scene you see in the movie is the last thing that happens in the story, and each scene that follows goes further back in time, until the final very dramatic scene is actually the one that starts the whole story. hard to explain and visualize, but amazing to watch.

Some indie movies are cool and innovative - some are just "indieish" fortunately this falls into the former category. Two young engineers accidentally invent a time machine in their garage. Watch what happens with suspense and humor as they try to deal with the consequences of making decisions using a technology for which they they don't fully understand.

City of God
Holy crap - filmed on location in Rio, and cast with real street kids, City of God weaves a spellbinding story about the blood spilled by street gangs. Epic in every sense of the word. A foreign language requirement is probably why more people haven't seen this.

Dolores Claiborne
Easy to skip over - this Stephen King adaptation about a strained mother daughter relationship as the mother is investigated for murder. A cast of top shelf actors, the story unfolds in an affecting way. A great combination of drama and suspense.

Shadow of the Vampire
We've all seen clips of the creepy black and white movie Nosferatu. The vampire is bald and has bug eyes. This movie is a fictional account of the filming of Nosferatu. Part suspense, part character study, part black comedy, this flick askes what happens when you find the absolute perfect person to play a vampire...

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