The Great Unknown: Five Films You Probably Haven't Seen

The year is 2011. I'd recently found out that I was once again single, though this time I'd have a bunch of paperwork and a foreclosure to go with it. Amid the depression and the struggle to keep myself together, I found a certain solace in film. I must admit [to my utter dismay] that I'm no longer much a reader. Considering the partial dyslexia [more irritating than anything] and my inability to focus on something that intense for long periods of time, I abandoned much of the art by the time I'd reached twenty-three years old.

I was also raised hyper-conservative, belonging to a once-obscure cult and all that jazz. Movies, in all senses of the idea, were only considered for viewing if they fit stringent criteria. Most films never once got a second glance.

Needless to say, my overall naivety regarding the film making world was overwhelming, and I'd been feeling the need to sit down and binge watch every major classic film, cult film, B-horror film, and foreign-just-barely-made-it-here film. Also, I fell in love with the independent movie.

This binge has been, off and on, a welcomed respite from the constant world of studiousness I'd grown up within. I was exhausted of math theorems, biological functioning, chemical equations, and literary critique. I wanted desperately to escape, and it was through the world of film that I did just this. In some ways, I've found things like video games, painting, recording/writing music, and writing blogs/articles [such as this one] to be just as freeing, but there's a sense of mindlessness to a film. It's naturally a stream of consciousness, and it's an exercise to be able to slide into a variety of streams, feel at home, and still pull away the sense of entertainment value and mental stimulation.

The notion that television "rots the brain" is archaic and silly, and frankly, I've seen readers who are dumb-as-a-brick, and stoners who could toss out some proofs more accurately than some math students. Individuals are individuals, but to make the blanket statement that being a film-hog is somehow bad for one's health is assuming that the person in question is actually being harmed by viewing. Lazy, perhaps, but not losing their brain.

Continuing on, I've selected five films that I've found seem to not get the credit they deserve. It's the lack of universal knowledge of people regarding it that I'm analyzing. How can such a pristine piece of artwork go so largely unnoticed, especially in this day and age? Forty years ago, small studios like Heliofant wouldn't have had millions of views of their short "I, Pet Goat II". Thanks in part to sites like Youtube and Google, and also in no small part to word of mouth, these studios are procuring fine art for the 21st century viewer, and getting the recognition they deserve.

Older works are not quite as lucky, though people like myself are beginning to openly spread the word within our social circles, among people of like interest. The problem here is that many of these films, viewed by the quiet introverts who write unnecessary movie reviews, remain stuck in this sort of shy-people-limbo, and it never quite escapes.

What we really need is for the mainstream population to open up more to the actual art being produced for the sake of it being art, not just purchasing the latest fad like Bieberitis.

But, without further adieu...

Fantastic Planet

This animated film's plot isn't what I'm going to focus on here. You can watch the film and easily follow what's going on. The film is very psychedelic, thus it moves slowly and deliberately through the script and scenery, never once racing to get to the finish line. This is all fine and good if you're on drugs, are a child, or a mix of both. The problem for most adults [in the 21st century] is the constant need for stimulation. This film isn't the type of stimulant that Americans thrive upon, much like they would a cheap football excursion.

This film isn't about originality, either. This scenario has been seen before it and after it more times than I can count. The issue is: how beautifully it conveys the need for social equality and the desire to embrace all the world around us as a viable alternative to the singular lifestyle we all grow accustomed to.

That's a long way of saying "slavery, in any form, is evil." Those of us in the far left would equate much of this message to the global need for social equality, and that no particular race/color/religion/etc. is superior to any other. Americans, by our nature, hate such a message.

This film is visually marvelous, with stop-motion animation and surreal landscapes dotted by nightmarish and whimsical creatures. It's running time is also moderate, clocking in at about 90 minutes. There's very little to no action in this film, however, and all the tension is [like most good films] contained in the characters and the scenes themselves.

Why isn't this film far more renowned than it currently is? Among the junkies, it has a cult-film status and [hopefully] remains that way. Personally I'd like to see more people opened up to it, but also I'd hate to see the film reach the "Hot Topic Crowd" fad status, either.


Titan A.E.

A well known factoid about myself, if you're at all acquainted with any of my childhood, is that I'm an enormous Don Bluth fan. One of those oddities that even considers "All Dogs Go to Heaven" to be a remarkable piece of animated work [for children] at that time. Hey, it was the late eighties-early nineties after all, and cheese was in. Bluth, however, managed to be one stand out example of where animators mostly got it right. Most of the time, as well, it was minus the cheesiness that many of his competitors insisted on emphasizing.

He has had his exceptions, and the aforementioned film isn't at all his worst. Bluth was mostly known for "An American Tail" [personal all-time favorite cartoon, ever] and "Land Before Time." He was an integral part of the Disney film "The Great Mouse Detective" before he was fired or he quit, I can't quite remember all that drama. He also did the stellar "Secret of NIMH", the most cultish animated movie I think I've ever heard of.

Bluth produced the hit film "Anastasia" in the late 90's, which was really his biggest sellout production ever. It certainly looked pretty, though, and the music was refreshing for an era where there was very little to feel rewarded by. His final full-length film to-date is the one I'm supposedly covering, though have yet to expound upon, and it's titled "Titan A.E.".

It's a blend of hand drawn animation and cgi, one of the first of its kind. It's definitely dated in this sense, but it isn't detrimental. If anything, it evokes an aire of nostalgia. We all know us 80's/90's kids love our nostalgia.

This movie isn't groundbreaking in terms of scripting or plot arc. Even visually it's a bit behind the times for when it was released (2000). However, a splendid ensemble cast mixed with the ever charming vision of Bluth combined to make one of the best sci-fi films for children ever produced. I really did just say that. This is a good pill, right here. Part of the writing credit goes directly to Mr. Joss Whedon, whose knowledge and tenacity of and for dialogue propels this film much farther than it otherwise would have. His writing plays directly into the strengths of every single cast member, and where it shines best is when there's more than one voice railing at the same time. He's always had a great knack for pulling that off, something I feel Jon Favreau has tried (and mostly failed) to do in his films. Where Favreau's dialogue tends to be pretentious and annoying, Whedon's is childlike and wondrous.

Unlike "Fantastic Planet", this film is ripe with action and suspense. There is some social critique going on here, and it errs on the side of psychedelia than on traditional children's faire, but all in all the end result is phenomenal. It's not original in any sense, and it borrows sorrowfully from all manner of science fiction lore, but it makes its own path like nothing else I've seen before or after it. It's a stand alone island in a sea of mediocrity, and it isn't necessarily the best critically of them, either. It just happened to get lucky, to fall at the right time in the right place, and to leave just enough a mark to be considered indelible.

The Cell

Now, I might actually be underestimating my audience here. This isn't necessarily a cult-film, but it certainly isn't one that everyone and their mother have seen. It is of notable worth to mention that it's the first live action film I've included on this list thus far. Starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn, along with Vincent D'Onofrio as the antagonist, it's definitely well casted and well funded. While many have criticised Lopez' acting in this film, I feel like she did perfectly fine in her role. Vaughn, surprisingly, did well altogether too.

It's most notable, though, that the antagonist is clearly the main focus here. His sinister nature, especially upon entering his mind (which isn't an easy viewing for most people), is considerably foul--as it should be. As time progresses, the movie delves deeper into psychological mumbo-jumbo and dream speak, but the visual treat is remarkable and worthwhile alone. The plot is actual pretty original this go-around, because what we're dealing with--a decade before "Inception" was released--was a virtually mainstream approach to the human psyche when asleep. Or, in this case, an unrelenting coma.

The climax is the trippiest part of the movie, akin to the deepest circle of dreams I'd imagine. Whatever--wherever--they are, or are doing, it's entertaining and intense. The film itself carries a visceral quality to it, and it presents itself almost as an experience more than a viewing.

There actually isn't a whole lot of a plot, but that's why the plot works: it's a crime drama, with hints of horror and thriller tossed in. It's disturbing to say the least, but it has to be. You must emote for the "bad guy", because he's actually merely a product of...blah blah blah...same old same old...but it works here.

It's not over done or silly, and that's why I've come to really love this film, both for its flaws and its successes.

Cannibal Holocaust

I know, I know...this film has already attained this "you must see it" status. It's pretty well known, especially since it's been around the block a few times.

Why is this film on this list then? It's clearly the most outlying of them all, so far out into left field that one would wonder if I'm on drugs while composing this article.

First, it's the originator of good shaky cam films. Good, as in, riveting. This movie succeeds so well at its own sense of voyeurism that you feel like you're there with them. The actors are superbly cast and absorbing. They own their "civilised, white-man" image with pride, but not with dignity. This film is harrowing and extremely off-putting, judged merely by its content.

Second, it's realistic. So realistic that the director paid the actors to disappear for six months after the film's release just to create the illusion that they actually died in the jungle. The animal deaths, however, were all entirely real. These scenes are maddening, saddening, revolting, and disgusting, but you remain glued to the screen nonetheless.

Third, and finally, it's really the first time I've ever had a movie sit in the pit of my stomach for days. DAYS. It wasn't until the following week that I could even talk about it. I didn't rewatch the film for months, and I've never watched it alone save that one initial viewing.

But it's gold, and it needs to be represented somehow for what it is.

Tron

This little snippet isn't for the nerds or the acid freaks. This is for everyone else, who largely haven't seen this 80's phenomenon. I'm a pretty big fan of Jeff "The Dude" Bridges, and it seems many people in my age bracket, or even younger, are coming back around to this supremely good actor and his films. "Starman", for instance, is now featured on Netflix, where you can essentially stream that bugger til your eyes bleed for eight bucks a month.

I won't spend long on "Tron", because it really just has to be seen to be believed. Considering how innovative the cgi was in its day, it's worth a viewing just for its historical significance to the film industry. Tron doesn't lack a story, however, and remains entertaining til the very end, with a very well executed climax to boot.

This film is much like "Titan A.E." in that it's equal parts "real" with cgi effects. The blending of reality with the digital world of Tron is so immersing that you begin to believe that these programs really could exist in cyberspace, roaming around and worshiping us as gods.

Why is "Tron" on this list, other than for its historical value?

Honestly, I'm constantly amazed at just how few people have actually watched the entire film. Many have seen clips, trailers, or other portions in other manners, but I've run into just handfuls of people who've watched the film at least once. Why is this?

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure, but I'm hoping this gets the word out a little more. The new "sequel" did some of that for me, obviously, and it was a pleasure to see Mr. Bridges return to his famed role, but it still doesn't quite have the appeal of its predecessor.


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