Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Twilight (1998)

Alright before you start wigging out or anything, check out the date for the film. This is NOT the teen-vamp saga. Never seen it, likely never will.

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Anyway, this Twilight came out in 1998 and stars Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon and (a young) Reese Witherspoon. It is directed and co-written by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, The Human Stain).

When I first saw Twilight I almost did not care what the plot was. As I sussed out, Harry Ross (Newman) is on the search for young Mel Ames (Witherspoon), scion of Hollywood parents Jack (Hackman) and Catherine (Sarandon). But this is only the beginning. Years pass and Ross, who boards on the Ames Estate, is asked to do another solid for the family. This is where the “fun” begins as the viewer is taken on a ride with plenty of twists and turns, including the reawakening of a 20-year old case involving the disappearance of Catherine’s first husband. (Plot Synopsis Source: Wikipedia)

 

I will relent and say that it does plod along at times during the film and the strength is in the performance of acting majesty. It has been years since I have seen this, but I am always fascinated and intrigued by contemporary efforts to capture the atmosphere and spirit of those noir films of the 1940s and 1950s.

Also, it is quite possible I have a thing for Paul Newman. Only just so. Seriously, I think if he had released a film in which he was reading the phone directory or staring at a wall watching paint dry, I’d be there.

But there is a sentimental reason why I love him so. As mentioned in this space before, he was an actor that my late father and me had a shared affinity for. So whenever I think of Paul Newman, a part of me is reminded of my beloved father.

Overlooked Film: Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

I have decided to return to something that I have not highlighted in quite some time on my website: overlooked/forgotten gems. so as we close the year out, allow me to submit the 2002 British drama/thriller Dirty Pretty Things for your approval.

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Dirty Pretty Things was directed by Stephen Frears and starred Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou, as star-crossed illegal immigrants working in a London hotel.  Check out the trailer here:

The film principally deals with themes surrounding the treatment (read: the exploitation) of illegal immigrants inhabiting a world with the more fortunate among us. This film does an admirable job of showing the underworld and how the plight of people who are simply seeking a better way of life often goes ignored.

Have you seen Dirty Pretty Things? Leave a lovely comment below and let me know what you thought of it.

Overlooked: Tight Spot (1955) Featuring Ginger Rogers

This week’s selection is truly an inspired choice; inspired because I just finished watching it on TCM. Tight Spot is a 1955 noir-ish melodrama that stars Ginger Rogers, Brian Keith, Edward G. Robinson and Lorne Greene.

I decided that this is an interesting film to call to your attention because it is yet another one of those non-singing, non-dancing Ginger Rogers roles. In it, she plays a woman who faces the challenge of testifying against a crime kingpin (Lorne Greene) in a federal trial.

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Overall it is a solidly put together film; but not groundbreaking. As I previously mentioned, it is noir-ish in so much as there exists the genre’s easily identifiable seedy, criminal underbelly in the form of Greene’s Benjamin Constain and his cronies who try to “get” to Rogers’ Sherry Conley, but the dramatic tension (for my part  at least) drives the film into the realm of the melodramatic. The best line is reserved for the final line of the film. Won’t spoil it for you here – I simply suggest you take a moment to catch this one when you can.

 

*Be sure to also check out other overlooked/forgotten titles at my colleague Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.

 

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: The Express (2008)

Biopics that are equally informative and inspiring are kinda hard to do, aren’t they? In fact, at its basest they can be described as trite and overly reliant on cliché to pull these elements off.

In that light, a part of my basis for “judging” (term used advisedly) films of this is down to my actions following watching the film. Just how interested does this story make me about the truth behind what I am seeing on screen? I have been known to spend hours following viewing a film digging around the internet, hungry for more information to feed that hunger.

This week’s overlooked selection, The Express, fits that bill and is a fitting addition to the collection, as it comes ripe off of the first complete week of the NFL season.

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Rob Brown as Ernie Davis (left) and Dennis Quaid as Ben Schwartzwadler in “The Express”

The Express tells the tale of the nation’s first African-American Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis of Syracuse University. For my non-sports enthusiasts out there, the Heisman Trophy is an award voted by a select panel and given to the nation’s top collegiate football player.

Certainly the film ticks all the boxes that make biopics so endearing and reassuring to American audiences about what is possible to us if we are determined and believe. In spite of this, I did not find it overly saccharine or schmaltzy. That may be due in part to the history-making feat being followed by the decidedly profound tragic turn that came immediately after.

Even if you are not a sports fan, I think you will appreciate this film.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Submarine (2010)

My pick this week is the BAFTA-nominated directorial debut of comedian Richard Ayoade, best known by many from his work on the cult television series The IT Crowd.

Submarine is based on a 2008 novel and stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine. It is mostly a “coming-of-age” story about a teen’s (Roberts) first love (Paige). The “B” story center’s around the youth’s home life and his parents’ (Hawkins, Taylor) complicated relationship, exacerbated by the introduction of when a newcomer (Considine).

Please don’t let my rather pedestrian description deter you, although it generally falls into the aforementioned tried and tested film genre, it is worth a look in thanks to some convincing performances by the entire cast as well as the direction of Ayoade.

(Fun Fact: Submarine was produced by Ben Stiller, who would later co-star with Ayoade in 2012’s The Watch).

Although the film is set in 1986, the cinematography really evokes a feeling (in my opinion anyway) of the previous decade. I may be mixing up my terms here, but there is a combined tea-stained, cinéma vérité look to the film that works very well for me.

Granted, this is definitely not a picture for everyone. Although there are quite the number of funny moments, Submarine maintains a fairly dark tone. I recall one review I read, upon the film’s release, having drawn parallels to another similarly themed coming of age tale, Harold and Maude. Now I cannot directly attest to that, having not seen Harold and Maude except for the odd movie clips, it is a very offbeat outing, so if you like your British comedies on the kookier than usual side, then I suggest you take a look at Submarine.

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Also make sure to check out Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom for other overlooked titles.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

This week’s overlooked selection is a film I have only recently had the pleasure of seeing, and am all the happier for the experience. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a “classic Hollywood-styled” romantic comedy directed by British television/film director Bharat Nalluri. The story is based on a 1938 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by co-writers by David Magee (Life of Pi) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty).

As I mentioned above, Miss Pettigrew is a charming film that harkens to cinema of a bygone era. I instantly think about Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day and its “remake” Pocketful of Miracles (the latter starring Bette Davis), where the audience sees the transformation of a down and out middle-aged woman.

While the circumstances and particulars are slightly different (here the titular Miss Pettigrew is a down on her luck English nanny who mistakenly is assigned a new “charge” in the form of American entertainer Delysia Lafosse), but the end results are the same. One of the things that make Miss Pettrigrew stand out is its talented cast, headed by the wonderful Frances McDormand (Miss Pettigrew) and Amy Adams (Delysia Lafosse). The supporting cast includes Lee Pace (a slight revelation for me here), Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong.

As a fan of classic and contemporary cinema, I constantly ask myself how successfully a film’s time and place can be replicated without coming across as too forced, anachronistic or lacking in charm. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day does not suffer from any of these issues in my opinion. It was obviously made by someone who understands the genre that charmed audiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

Check out Miss Pettigrew‘s Photo Gallery below:

Be sure to take a look at some other cinematic highlights for the week on Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Summer Films (Plus My Overlooked Pick for the Week)

Folks we are truly and deeply into the summer now. So I decided to troll the internet and look at some of the lists of “best movies about summer.”

Confession Time: Dirty Dancing, a film that graces many of these lists, has never crossed my eyes. Is that a good or bad thing?

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Question: Can you think of any other films that did not make the list?

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Overlooked Film of the Week: SpaceCamp (1986)

After reviewing the list I was reminded of my one of my favorite films as a child, SpaceCamp. For a number of years, attending the real-life SpaceCamp was a dream of mine. Unfortunately that obsession eventually waned and all I was left with was the ability to live vicariously through the fictional characters. At the time, this film captured my imagination and desire to explore the stars. Even though I knew that they were not ACTUALLY in outer space, I was still quite envious of the cast’s experience in making this movie.

When it was released, SpaceCamp was both a critical and financial failure – due in part to what can only be described as bad timing: it was released six months after the Challenger disaster. In spite of this lack of fortune I think that in a world where there is a sufficient lack of young people (especially young women) pursuing STEM-based education, a movie like this can serve as an inspiration for further math, science and technology learnin’. My favorite character was/is Trish (played by Kelly Preston), who was the most remarkable (if not a bit unbelievable) genius one could possibly imagine. (Side Note:  they have SpaceCamp for adults, so the dream is still alive folks, the dream is still alive).

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Be sure to check out more overlooked/forgotten films, by visiting Todd Mason’s blog.

 

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Return to Me (2000)

For more titles be sure to visit Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.

My selection this week came as I was passing through the channels over the long holiday weekend. My movie-loving blogging colleague Ruth of Flixchatter, has recommended this film many times over and I just never got around to watching it. The film I am talking about is the 2000 romcom/dramedy Return to Me starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, directed by Bonnie Hunt.

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If ever there was a human transplant story to make you laugh, cry and ultimately feel romantically fulfilled, this is it. On the one hand, the grief and heartache (literal and figurative) are so pronounced – the combination of: the tragedy of losing a loved one, the agony, anticipation and hope of receiving a life-saving gift and a new lease on life is balanced with the most subtle yet effective comedic touches.

Everything about this film works for me: the setting, the characters (and the wonderful cast who portray them), and the music. It’s a shame that Bonnie Hunt has not directed more feature films. I think I might start a petition of something.

On a slightly sadder note, Return to Me also marks the final film appearances of both Carroll O’Connor and Dick Cusack (father of John and Joan).

For a more thorough look at the film (from several angles), I refer you to Ruth’s site.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Hitchcock Silents

This week’s selection(s) is a preview of what’s to come at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The Hitchcock 9, is a touring series of the entire surviving collection of Hitchcock films from the silent era. From Jun 29—Jul 3, 2013, the series makes its stop here in the greater New York City area.

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When most people think of Hitchcock, it is the Hollywood classic suspense thrillers. What I find so fascinating about these little-seen British silents is that while many of the titles would not be considered typical of the “Master of Suspense,” there are cinematic techniques and conventions that would later end up in many of his signature movies to be seen.

Check out the BAM trailer for the week-long screenings here:

My recommendations?

  • THE LODGER (considered the most “Hitchcockian” of his silents)
  • MANXMAN
  • BLACKMAIL

I for one am going to catch The Lodger and the 1927 Hitchcock adaptation of the Noël Coward play Easy Virtue. The most exciting bit? The opportunity to catch these films with live music accompaniment.

For more information, The New York Times published an in-depth piece on the film series last week.

Lastly, special thanks to the British Film Institute who curated the extensive restoration project and chronicled it in their “Restoring Hitchcock” website:

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

In anticipation for my write up on Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (opens nationwide on June 21), my post for this week is the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of the same play by William Shakespeare, which happens to be one of my favorite plays. Featuring an all star cast including Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Robert Shaw Leonard and a pre-Underworld Kate Beckinsale, this 1993 feature was made me fall in love with Shakespeare and Tuscany again (my first time was with the release of 1985’s A Room With a View).

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For those who do not know, Much Ado About Nothing is as it states on the tin, it is a frivolous, lighthearted comedy or at least as light as Shakespeare can go.

I cannot believe it is 20 years since its release!

Check out the trailer below:


Check out other great overlooked titles on Todd’s blog, Sweet Freedom!