Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Fistful of the Maligned! (Matt’s Picks)

Sexy Frankenstein!

    Every year, as the nation tries to catch its breath, trim some of its holiday fat, and generally get back into the swing of things, Hollywood dumps a bunch of mid-level or less films, movies the studios have little to no faith in, or that featured various problematic productions.  The stuff they’ve spent the money on, but don’t want to put any more effort into selling to the public.  The dregs and the castoffs.  And on occasion, the really amazing films that come out of nowhere.

    So as we prepare to sift through the mud, looking for a pearl or two, co-Dork Brad and I are looking at a few movies that have, for whatever reason, never quite hit it off with the adoring public.  Those movies we love, that were/are hated by the general viewer.  As Brad pointed out, given enough time, most movies will find their audience.  And as we’re glowing examples of, the internet will give those audiences a voice.  So, hear my voice as I give you a rundown of five of my favorite movies that nobody seems to like.  And I’m not even going to bring up the fourth Indiana Jones film…oh, wait, I just did (read my review of that film here).

5.  Southland Tales:  Richard Kelly’s follow-up to the cult favorite Donnie Darko was over-ambitious, over-long, over-budget, and way, way over-weird for it to possibly be a success.  The first time I watched it (on video, because I never even saw rumor of it playing in theaters), I stared for all two hours and twenty five minutes, mouth agape, marveling at what I was seeing.  Was I watching a colossal disaster, or a glimpse at genius?  At the end of my first viewing, I could not answer that.  But I was so effected by the film that I went out the next day and purchased a copy, brought it home and watched it again (subjecting Brad to it at the same time).  Upon second viewing, I fell firmly on the side of genius.  A fully realized alternate world, with countless subplots, weird technologies and religions, wildly weird characters, cracking and funny dialog, and one of the first truly great Dwayne Johnson performances.  Can I understand why it didn’t connect with people?  Yes.  Absolutely.  In no way am I surprised that this film is A) largely unseen and B) disliked by most who have seen it.  But I love it.  A lot.

4.  The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen:  Terry Gilliam is a divisive fellow anyway.  You’ve got a lot of folks like me, who sing the praises of his bent, surreal masterworks like Brazil and Time Bandits.  And then you’ve got folks (again, like me) who love his mainstream success, 12 Monkeys.  But there’s not a lot of love out there for his fantasy adventure film The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, featuring a then 60 something John Neville as the titular character, a man of tall tales and taller personality.  With every visual trick in his fairly thick book, Gilliam created a disconcerting world of creepy and funny characters, drawing on history and fairy tale in equal parts.  It’s funny and scary, heart warming and heart breaking, and all such a joy to watch.  But few people seem to have seen it, and fewer still to have thought much of it.  Like the other oft forgotten or ignored fantasy film, The Dark Crystal, this movie holds a very special place deep in my heart.  And the Baron remains one of my all time favorite characters.

3.  The English Patient:  OK, how do I justify a Best Picture winner?  Well, since this movie won the Oscar, it’s made almost every ‘worst film to win an Oscar’ list I’ve seen.  And whenever I mention the film, I get a groan and an eye-roll, like when you mention a particularly dense book someone was forced to read in high school.  But this is not only one of my favorite movies, it’s also a film I unabashedly point to when people say ‘the book is always better than the movie,’ and shout ‘not always!’  Almost everything I love about film comes from the script/direction by the late, great Anthony Minghella.  Almost nothing comes from the book, which ranks among the worst things I’ve ever read.  The film captures the epic story of lives torn apart and thrust together by war, the hope and excitement of archeology and exploration, the wonder and pangs of new love, the awful way we treat each other and the deep need we have to share our lives.  It’s gorgeous, with swelling music and amazing performances.  And it’s the closest thing to a classic epic of yesteryear I’ve seen in a long time.  For me, this movie sits alongside Lawrence of Arabia for its emotional impact and wistful draw.  And like Casablanca, as I age and experience more of the ups and downs of life, the movie means more and more to me.

2.  Speed Racer:  So people hated the Matrix sequels.  I know.  Though I enjoyed much of the second film, and actually really like the third, they didn’t go in the direction I’d have liked; that’s for sure.  In stead of creating an epic science fiction action trilogy about humanity and its war with the machines, what we actually got was an action glossed meditation on philosophy and mythology.  OK.  So, when Speed Racer came out, I think most people didn’t give two craps about it.  In part because they were so disappointed with the Matrix films, and in part because most people didn’t even remember the original Japanese cartoon the film was based on.  Add to that, no stars to get too excited about and a PG rating, and I think it just didn’t have the muscle to drag people to the multiplex.  When you watch the film, you’re likely tempted to just enjoy the light show and let the content pass you buy.  On the surface, it’s a bright, flashy cartoon with some live action actors goofing off.  But if you look deeper, the film is a heart-felt ode to the love of family and the pursuit of excellence.  Upon repeat viewing, I realized that Speed Racer is actually a masterful Kung Fu film, that involves Speed’s quest for self awareness and his eventual enlightenment.  The scene where he’s racing his brother’s ghost actually gets me choked up just thinking about it.  And the final race, when reality itself bends around Speed and he finally becomes one with everything is visually beautiful and emotionally uplifting in a way movies rarely reach.  Part of me feels that this film will eventually develop a cult following, and I’d love to catch it on some revival tour.  I would very much love to see it on the big screen again.

1.  Howard the Duck:  For this Dork, the 80s were a magical time, filled with movies about how dancing or rocking hard enough could change the world.  And it was a time filled with movies that make you sit back and say, ‘how the deuce did this ever get made?!’  Howard the Duck is one of the best examples of this, and one of those films that captures an aspect of my essential self many who know me don’t quite understand.  I have many friends who know the wonder of Big Trouble in Little China, Commando, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  But even my most die-hard, wacky, nerd buddies won’t go to the mat for Howard.  I will.  I have.  From Lea Thompson’s frizzy haired rocker-girl to Jeffery Jones’s wild-eyed alien possessed scientist, I love almost every minute of this film.  It goes for it in a way movies did for a brief time in the 80s, without all the 90s ‘whatever,’ wannabe hipster irony and cynicism.  And you know what?  I like the romance.  Though never consummated, I like the idea that this short, alien duck man can still find love with a beautiful woman, and that she can see through his outer shell to the good hearted dreamer inside.  As Shakespeare once said, ‘haters gonna hate.’  But I love this movie, and I don’t care how many dissenting voices call out against it.


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