Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sleeper Hits: Hidden-Gem Movies You Need to Watch this Summer

   It is summer, and you are slacking. Maybe you peel yourself off the couch or away from the fridge long enough to see a popcorn-blockbuster or skim Game of Thrones’ Wikipedia page to catch up on what happened, but a slacker you are, and a slacker I am too.
   No longer. Seeing as ‘tis the season to be a little butt-sore on your couch all day, I will not stop you, because dammitall if you are not going to exercise your god-given right to watch terrible Adam Sandler movies on FX or old re-runs of Chopped. What I want you to do though, what I am imploring you to do, is to use this couch time wisely. How? Easy—take some chances on the hidden gems of Hollywood.
   A lot of flicks are lost in the never-ending cinematic shuffle these days. Whether they had the misfortune of debuting alongside budget-bloated cash-ins or were just victims of limited releases, there are some truly great movies out there that are criminally under-viewed. So start pirating head on down to your local video store (after, of course, you go back in time to when those things were relevant) and pick up these flicks—whatever genre you prefer, you might just find a new favorite.

Shoot ‘Em Up
   No, that is not two genres mistakenly tacked on top of each other. Shoot ‘Em Up is the name of the flick, and it is a hell of a flick to boot. Terrifically self-aware, surprisingly clever, and glossed over with a jam-tastic soundtrack and scores of so-over-the-top-it’s-awesome action scenes—this is one where you sit back, chomp on the munchies, and enjoy the ride. Shoot ‘Em Up is there to point out the ridiculousness of other shoot ‘em ups, and it does that by being as absurd as possible. It knows exactly what it is, and it does it really darn well.
   Oh, and did I mention that it features none other than Clive Owen spouting some of the greatest one-liners you will ever hear? Believe it. Turn your brain off and watch Shoot ‘Em Up.

Honorable Mentions: Hot Fuzz

Super Troopers
   Like Reno-911 meets . . . well, it is pretty much a knockoff of Reno-911, but hey, it has some really quality laughs. You follow a Highway Patrol office as they bring down a local drug ring—simple enough.
   Here is what sets it apart though: after one viewing, it will not seem like much, but in the days and weeks to come, it is pretty darn tough to find yourself not tempted to play “Repeat” or “The Meow Game” amongst your friends and buddies. Just like that, a low-key comedy suddenly blossoms into a surprisingly quotable and memorable movie. The goofball cast and simple story rely little on big names or intricate points—this is pure shenanigans at its very best.

Honorable Mentions: Beerfest, Hot Fuzz (seriously, Hot Fuzz is damn good—great action, great comedy, really British, Simon Pegg’s in it, super quotable, super cool)

Science Fiction
Twelve Monkeys
   In this time-travel flick, you have Brucie Willis going back to try and hunt down the source of a virus that wiped out five-billion folks and forced humanity underground. The premise is intriguing, the characters are interesting, and your main man Brad Pitt gives an Oscar-nominated performance as the prime suspect in releasing the virus. The plot might be a little unnecessarily thick at times, but the ending is one of the best in modern sci-fi. Great performances, a cool world, and a huge sense of satisfaction as the puzzle pieces come together make this one to remember—and one to wonder why you did not hear of it sooner.

Honorable Mentions: Starship Troopers, Primer, Upstream Color (see below for these last two)

Lars and the Real Girl
   Ryan Gosling plays a recluse who buys a hyper-realistic sex doll to keep him company. Rather than using it for the obvious, however, he keeps it around as a simple friend. The doll accompanies him to family events, dinner parties, and through all the staring and murmurs, there might be a thing or two to be learned about love here. Charming, funny—I dare say it is worth watching for man and woman alike. Clearly, there is not really much like it out there. This is Ryan Gosling like you have not seen him. Girls will think it is cute. Guys will find a surprising amount of charm. Good stuff.

Honorable Mentions: Blue Valentine (highly acclaimed, but not widely-seen by general folks. WARNING: definitely a tough watch—it is another Gosling flick, but this chronicles a failing marriage, complete with ex-boyfriend issues, kid issues, pregnancy issues, sex issues—one of the single most depressing movies you will watch, but memorable and thought-provoking at the very least)

   Ryan Reynolds stars as a truck driver who, while on tour in Iraq, wakes up in a coffin buried deep underground. As the viewer, you wake up with him (in one of the most memorable openings in modern cinema—no kidding—it rivals the opening of Children of Men up there, and that is one of the single best openings ever filmed) and never leave his side for all 90 minutes of tense, gritty claustrophobia. This is literally an entire movie filmed in a box, and the resulting movie is nothing short of a pure thriller experience.
   This is hands-down Ryan Reynolds best flick, and thank goodness, because this truly inventive movie simply would not work without him. Totally delivers. If you ask me, this is one of the most white-knuckling, force-you-to-the-edge-of-your-seat movies put out in the last decade. Insanely tense, insanely well-done, insanely good. And oh man—just wait until the snake arrives.

Honorable Mentions: The Prestige, The Machinist, Memento (all highly-acclaimed flicks, and they each have killer endings)

   Finally—a sports flick that takes the most enjoyable aspect of its chosen competition, isolates it, and brings it to the spectacular forefront. In this case, Goon is a hockey movie, and you are darn right that it is about fighting in hockey. It might be a classic underdog story—a bouncer named Doug is brought onto a local Canadian hockey team purely for his fighting skills, and soon looks to go up against the best brawler in the league—but Goon, for all its goofiness and at times clichéd writing, brings a tremendous amount of heart. It loves its premise, flaunts it like crazy, brings some terrific fighting action, and it just works.
   This is one of those “just trust me” kind of recommendations, but seriously, if you like sports flicks, give Goon  a try. You will not be sorry.

Honorable Mentions: Undefeated (see below), The Natural (highly-acclaimed, but oft-forgotten in the "movies I should show my kids" discussion)

Letters from Iwo Jima
   Clint Eastwood made this one as a companion piece to Flags of our Fathers, and unfortunately, the Japanese perspective brought forward by this flick was brushed aside by many a star-spangled American viewer. Regardless, Letters from Iwo Jima is far and away the better movie—the emotion is more impactful, the characters are more interesting, and the war action is brutal, heavy, and all too real. This is one of the rawest war flicks you will ever see, and easily one of the best foreign-language films made in the past decade (it is all in Japanese, in case you did not quite catch on by now).
   Far superior to its American partner-film in every way, this is the definition of a criminally-unviewed movie. This is one of Clint Eastwood’s best works—demands to be experienced.

Honorable Mentions: Jarhead, Enemy at the Gates

Primer, Upstream Color
   Usually, when the same man directs, produces, and stars in a movie, it is a recipe for disaster (whaddup Tommy Wiseau!), but in the case of Shane Curruth, who does exactly this in both of these flicks, the result is something extraordinary, if a little abstract.
   It is impossible to explain both of these simply, but in their essence, Primer is a time-travel flick and Upstream Color is a mind-control flick. Both, however, are far from simple, and easily demand multiple viewings. Your first time through might be rough in the comprehension department, but I promise, with some further reading and a follow-up view down the road, the rewards are bountiful. The stories are deep, thought-provoking, and intelligent. The performances, despite the lack of any big name whatsoever, feel genuine. The style is distinguished and unique. Even in not knowing everything after the fact, you can still sit back and know that what you watched, whatever it was trying to say, did it well and delivered one hell of an experience. Totally visceral and amazingly memorable, Primer and Upstream Color are absolute sleepers. Track them down, settle in, and give them a shot—just be prepared to think about them, talk about them, and invest in them for a long time to come.

Honorable Mentions: Moonrise Kingdom

And finally . . .
The Documentary
   Really though, if there is one thing I recommend you do this summer, it is that you hunt down some documentaries that interest you, and watch them. Then watch more. Then find some that you might not see normally, and watch those. Documentaries are totally under-viewed in themselves, and believe it or not, they can offer some of the most powerful, hard-hitting, spirit-lifting, insightful moments that the world of movies have to offer.
   As interest varies, taste varies, so here is a slew of general recommendations:
   The Imposter—a missing-person case takes a sinister, twisted turn
   Undefeated—follows an inner-city Memphis high school football team (won Best Doc. in 2012)
   Restrepo—follows a unit during the War in Afghanistan
   Hoop Dreams—looks at two young men’s aspirations to play professional basketball
   Exit Through the Gift Shop—the evolution of street art

   Enjoy your lazy summers, friends, but whether you are finding some down-time after your summer job or just kicking back on a weekend, I urge you to check out some of these flicks. Look into them and be enlightened—you might just find yourself a diamond in the rough.

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