Dot the i and other films you should be watching
There are a lot of good movies out there—probably more than you will ever get a chance to see. Heck, with the Academy Awards just around the corner, a whole new batch of movies the experts think you should see will be front and center. Because of this, and our modern society's general time crunch, there is nothing worse than spending 2-3 hours watching a movie that ends up being a stinker. Sure, you had the chance to consume copious amounts of popcorn and maybe had some snuggle time with your significant other, but, your entertainment left something to be desired.
While you're never going to avoid the occasional bad film, and I don't mean the so-bad-it's-good kind of bad, I mean the so-bad-it-hurts-to-watch; recommendations from critics and friends can help make these experiences rare and avoidable. Consider me a friend for the next few minutes and find a new film to love and enjoy. Most of the following films are considered box office failures, but that doesn't mean they're bad films.
The following list is a small one and it consists of films that are under watched and under appreciated Most have been commercial failures and have been widely disparaged by critics. Next time you’re in a bind and looking for a movie to escape in for a few hours, refer to this list and choose one. You won’t be sorry.
Dir. Michael Apted
Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Ciaran Hindes, Rufus Sewell, Youssou N’Dour, Michael Gambon and Albert Finney
2006, 118 minutes
This is a heavy picture. It’s not one to watch if you’re hoping to walk away from a film with a smile. But, it is ultimately a story of triumph and resolve. A British film, this picture is based on the true story of William Wilberforce (Gruffudd), a British member of parliament and his quest to end slavery in Britain. It’s a fascinating look at an industry no one living today witnessed first hand and presents some compelling arguments on both sides of the slave trade. While the atrocity of slavery is played up int he film, the negative financial impacts of communities dependent ons lave labour for survival is also explored.
John Newton (Finney) was a former slave ship owner who converted to Christianity and wrote the beloved hymn Amazing Grace. Finney gives a powerful performance as the old minister, friend and guide to Wilberforce, who is losing his eye sight and struggling with the guilt of his past sins.
It’s a powerful and important film that deserves repeated viewings.
Black Snake Moan
Dir. Craig Brewer
Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake and S. Epatha Merkerson
2006, 117 minutes
Black Snake Moan
The soundtrack alone makes this modern day fairy tale worth the view. A virtual tour through southern gospel and blues, this picture combines racism, religion, nymphomania, and southern blues resulting in, dare I say it, a film that ultimately makes you feel good and ends with universal redemption.
The plot focuses on a Mississippi bluesman named Lazarus (Jackson) who holds a troubled local woman, Rae (Ricci), captive in his house in an attempt to cure her of her nymphomania after finding her severely beaten on the side of a road. He chains her to a radiator and teaches her about self resepct, Jesus and the blues.
Despite its grim, controversial and disturbing imagery, the film is actually quite heart-warming. Rae and Laz develop a true bond and both characters end up helping the other exorcise their respective demons.
I strongly recommend this film, but caution you to view it with discretion. There is frequent drug use and, by the end of the film, you will feel as familiar with Christina Ricci’s bosom as you are with the back of your hand. There is also a rape scene. But, overall, it’s a heartwarming portrayal of healing, redemption and man’s love for fellow man.
Dot the I
Dir. Matthew Parkhill
Gael Garcia Bernal, Natalia Verbeke, James D’Arcy, Tom Hardy, Charlie Cox
2003 (2005 US), 92 minutes
Dot the i
This wildly entertaining independent film blends suspense, romance, and eroticism into one unique film, without overdoing any of them. A psychological thriller at heart, set in London, Carmen (Verbeke), a young Spanish woman engaged to be married to Barnaby (D’Arcy), has her hen night (Bachelorette party on this side of the pond) at a French restaurant in London. She is invited to participate in the observance of an old custom which allows her to kiss the stranger of her choice before the marriage - symbolically "kissing her single life goodbye" and bringing luck for the future. The man she chooses is Kit Bernal) and both enjoy the kiss far more than they have intended. They fall in love, which creates a "love triangle" among Carmen, her fiancé Barnaby, and Kit.
What results is a thrill ride with more twists and turns then San Francisco’s Lombard Street and an ending so shocking and satisfying (and maybe a little implausible, but that's okay. We watch movies to escape!), you’ll want to begin watching the film again before the end credits have finished rolling.
This film was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the Deauville Film Festival. Find out why.
Down by Law
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Starring Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni
1986, 107 minutes
Down by Law
Down by Law is a 1986 black-and-white independent film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and takes place in New Orleans and surrounding Louisiana Bayou. Musician Tom Waits, who also stars in the film, creates a brilliant soundtrack and, as with all Jarmusch pictures, the setting is a crucial element to the film.
The film centers on the arrest, incarceration, and escape from jail of three men. It discards jailbreak film conventions by focusing on the interaction between the convicts rather than on the mechanics of the escape. In fact, the escape from jail happens about halfway through the film and isn’t even shown on camera. There’s a good amount of humor, mostly set up by Benigni’s clumsiness with the English language. A key element in the film is Robby Müller's slow-moving camerawork, which captures the architecture of New Orleans (and the dirty, icky part, not the glamorous part) and the Louisiana bayou to which the cellmates escape. The cinematography is astounding, the characters are memorable and unique and the ending is poetic, even calling to mind Robert Frost’s the Road not Taken.
Dir. Nick Gomez
Starring: Bette Midler, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck, William Fichter, Neve Campbell, Danny DeVito, Marcus Thomas
2000, 96 minutes
When town bitch Mona Dearly (Midler) drives her car into a river in a death that’s ruled homicide, everyone is a suspect. Is the real perpetrator her adulterous husband (Fichter), her one handed imbecilic son (Marcus Thomas), her sons' angry business partner (Affleck) or someone else? The duty to find out lands on Chief Rash (Danny DeVito).
Full of quirkiness (the entire town was gifted Yugo’s in the mid 80’s, most of which have vanity plates), humor, mystery and drama, typical of Gomez’s other works(About a Boy), this movie will have you laughing (did I mention a bit part by Will Ferrell as the town mortician. He's weirder then Crispin Glover as mortician in What's Eating Gilbert Grape), crying and wishing you yourself had been the murderer of Mona Dearly, while also feeling loads of empathy towards her.
This may be the finest film about a weird small town this side of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and, in the words of reviewer Bill Zwecker, “A wonderful, offbeat comedy.” Queue this one up. You won’t be sorry.
Dir. Gus Van Sant
Starring: Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento, Scott Patrick Green, Nicole Vicius, Thadeus A. Thomas
2005, 97 minutes
This film, a fictionalized account of Kurt Cobain’s last days, is a masterpiece. Based on various accounts of Cobain’s final days, the film tells the story without mythologizing. It’s raw, emotional and beautiful. Anyone familiar with Gus Van Sant’s work will instantly recognize his minimal dialogue (most of which is unscripted), long camera shots and emphasis on background images.
Blake (Pitt) is a Cobain like figure who escapes from a drug rehab center and wanders through the woods until his reaches his dilapidated mansion, filled with friends, family and hangers-on. Blake spends most of his final days wandering around the mansion talking to himself and fighting off people trying to get his money and hand him demos of their tunes. The film ends the way Cobain’s life did, but Van Sant’s version (which was not authorized by Courtney Love, Cobain’s widow/killer) is gorgeous. One particular haunting scene, which takes place the night before our fateful anti-heroes demise, consists of Blake sitting in the music room of his mansion singing a beautiful ballad while strumming a slightly off pitch guitar. There’s also a funny scene involving Jehovah’s Witnesses and a cameo from one of my favorite rock stars, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth).
I’m not generally a fan of Van Sant, but I love this film. Anyone who likes art house films or who wants a glimpse into Cobain’s last days should watch this film. It's a bleak and pathetic vision based on a larger than life icon.
Lords of Dogtown
Dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson
2005, 107 minutes
Lords of Dogtown
Heath Ledger gives the performance of a lifetime as the drunken owner of a surf shop turned skate shop owner. Based on the real life Z-Boys, earlier purveyors of the sport of skateboarding, the story follows four Venice Beach, California teenagers who give up surfing for skateboarding. Set in the 1970’s during California’s drought which forced pool owners to drain their pools, resulting in a playground for skaters.
Written by real life Z-Boy and professional skate boarder Stacy Peralta, this coming-of-age story is funny, tragic, heartwarming and immensely likeable. Whether or not you enjoy skateboarding, everyone can relate to the friendships and adventures of youth. This film bleeds nostalgia and tugs at the heart strings. Be sure to have a box of Kleenex handy.
This movie should be viewed by all, and I recommend the unrated directors cut.
Dir: James Merendino
Starring: Matthew Lilliard, Annabeth Gish, Michael Goorjian, Christopher McGavin, James Segal
1998, 95 minutes
This was the first film I purchased on DVD and it remains one of my favorite films of all time. Starring Matthew Lilliard as Steve-o and Michael Goorjian as Heroin Bob, the film followers a crew of punk rockers partying, getting high, getting into fights and, in general, wreaking havoc in the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City in 1985. The film issemi-autobiographical and based on the life of director and screenwriter James Merendino, explores teenage angst, family values, "tribes" (cliques) friendship and conformity in a film that blends humor, drama, and punk rock soundtrack that would make Henry Rollins jealous.
This film will have you laughing, crying and hating red necks through the insanely quick ninety minute run time. Plus, seeing James Segal as a nerdy punk rock kid and Christopher McDonald as Steve-O’s yuppie dad, are worth the price of this film. Do yourself a favor and check out this film. It deserves repeat viewings and your admiration.
Way of the Gun
Dir. Chrisopher McQuarrie
Starring: Ryan Phillippe. Benecio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, James Caan
2000, 119 minutes
The Way of the Gun
An all-star cast, this film follows the exploits of two con men and low level hoods, Phillippe (Parker) and Del Toro (Longbough) as they attempt to make a big score, kidnapping a young surrogate mother (Lewis) and holding her ransom. Naturally, things go awry, lots of bullets are fired and lots of deep dark family secrets are revealed. The film is narrated in a style that gives the film a modern noir feel. James Caan steals the show as an adjudicator and is, perhaps, the reason this film is considered a cult classic, even though it was a commercial failure and was largely panned by critics.
Filmed with a yellow filter, giving the film a matte feel, the costume and set design only add to the appeal of this film. The cinematography is astounding and the direction is gritty and realistic. Lewis gives the performance of a lifetime, and Phillippe and Del Toro are the bad guys you want to root for, in a film where everyone has secrets, and there are no “good” or "bad” guys.. This is a must see, shoot ‘em up thriller.
Dir. Paul McGuigan
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lilliard, Diane Kruger
2004, 114 minutes
A game of deception and cat chasing mouse chasing cat. Matthew (Hartnett) meets Lisa (Kruger), Matthew and Lisa fall in love, Lisa disappears, Matthew grows despondent, spends the next three years looking for her, meets a sexy brunette, they do some naughty things, and then the fun begins.
Wicker Park in Chicago serves as the meeting place for the lovers and becomes a palce of passion, pain and emotional torment.
A sexy, romantic thriller with enough twists and turns to keep you dizzy and disoriented, yet fully engaged, Wicker Park is a thrill ride that doesn't let down for a second. Fueled by an up and coming young cast and a terrific soundtrack, Wicker Park is a tale of obsession, love and passion that does not disappoint. The closing scene is also one of the best examples of how to use music in film. Brilliant. A terrific film with a satisfying denouement.