5 Movie Recommendations

Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. It’s a bum’s life. Quitting acting, that’s the sign of maturity. - Marlon Brando

For newcomers to my monthly blog piece, welcome to my recommendation section, where I’ve picked five films worthy of a watch. As always, if you have any other films to recommend, or simply think I’m way off the mark, post your comments below. Thanks for reading!

Film:  Hell In The Pacific (1968)

Director:  John Boorman

Staring:  Lee Marvin, Toshiro Mifune

Why you should check this out:  Two men find themselves abandoned on a small Pacific island, during the tumult of World War 2. Only problem is that one is American and the other Japanese: as both struggle to survive their tropical prison, a no-holds-barred mini war is mercilessly waged in a battle for dominance.

Hell In The Pacific is an undeniable triumph for John Boorman: using only two desperate solitary figures, he manages to create an important commentary and subsequent statement on man’s tenuous, yet necessary, struggle for co-habitation. Forcing the players to communicate through actions rather than dialogue (owing to the obvious language barrier) is a refreshing and effective device that really brings to the fore Marvin and Mifune’s on-screen presence.

A briliantly crafted film that deserves its ‘classic’ status.

Trivia:  Both Mifune and Marvin both fought in World War 2 (on opposing sides of course) and were actually stationed in the Pacific.

Film:  Nine Queens (2000)

Director:  Fabian Bielinsky

Staring:  Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls, Leticia Bredice

Why you should check this out:  Two con-artists, a rich crook, a femme fatale and a book of stamps: these are the humble ingredients that director Fabian Bielinksy uses to create a narrative maze of crooked deals, double crosses, lies within lies and the dogged pursuit of dirty money. Attempting to sell a forged copy of ‘The Nine Queens’ (a rare stamp set), tricksters Marcos and Juan get more than they bargained for when their plans go awry, pushing their improvisational skills and trust for each other to the limit.

This unassuming indie flick from Argentina proves you don’t need much budget to craft a taught, energetic thriller (the budget was a cheap $1.5 mil). What Nine Queens lacks in visual flair, it more than compensates with an intelligent narrative punctuated with humour that plays a fine guessing game with the audience. Who ever thought stamps could be entertaining?

Trivia:  Gaston Pauls ended up in hospital after injuring his leg during a motorbike chase scene. He ended up with four stitches.

Film:  Gilda (1946)

Director:  Charles Vidor

Staring:  Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready

Why you should check this out:  Continuing with the Argentinean crime theme, my next pick is the fantastic Gilda, set within the shady world of a Buenos Aires illegal casino. Things are going swimmingly for casino owner Ballin Mundson and his right hand man Johnny Farrell… until Ballin reveals he has just married the mysterious Gilda, a woman he hardly knows. An instant dislike sparks between Gilda and Johnny, forming a dark ménage a trois that threatens to destroy their whole operation.

What impressed me about Gilda (along with the moody lighting, strong performances and fine dialogue) is how dark all the characters are. Reminiscent in many respects to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, none of the characters are truly likeable, each possessing their own devious motives and complete lack of scruples. Normally this would be a flaw, however all the players are fascinating to watch as their scheming grows thicker and layers of character mystery are slowly peeled away. Considering this was made in 1946, Gilda is way ahead of its time.

Trivia:  During a scene where Rita Hayworth slaps Glenn Ford’s face, she broke two of his teeth. Being the stalwart thespian, Ford continued the take to the end.

Film:  Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Director:  Satoshi Kon, Shogo Furuya

Staring:  Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto

Why you should check this out:  With the exception of Parry from The Fisher King, tramps are generally pretty rubbish. If they’re not slumped in a piss soaked stupor making a half-arsed attempt at begging for change, they’re either ranting nonsensical gibberish or brawling with their fellows over a bottle of White Lightening. Not so in Japan it seems, as Satoshi Kon introduces us to some irresistibly likable bums in Tokyo Godfathers.

Out on a Christmas Eve bin forage, 3 tramps (a teen runaway, a middle-aged alcoholic and a transvestite) discover an abandoned baby in a dumpster. Unwilling to leave the defenceless child, the bums adopt it into their makeshift family, while searching throughout Tokyo for the elusive parents.

With Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika under his belt, Satoshi Kon has shown his ability to direct quality anime and Tokyo Godfathers is no exception. A melange of humour, action set pieces and heart-warming moments, Tokyo Godfathers manages to delve into the oft disregarded life of a homeless person without becoming too downbeat or heavy handed. A must for anime fans.

Trivia:  Theatrical posters for both Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress are visible during the beginning of the film.

Film:  Adaptation (2002)

Director:  Spike Jonze

Staring:  Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Why you should check this out:  Clearly inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, Spike Jonze gives life to Charlie Kaufman’s reflexive story of a writer struggling to adapt a novel into a screenplay. Struggling to meet the studio’s deadline, while tackling a particularly nasty bout of writer’s block, Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) looks to his twin brother Donald (also Nic Cage) for help, prompting him to question the nature of his writing and the unfulfilled elements of his own life.

Adaptation is notable for several reasons: 1) it’s one of those rare gems that showcases a credible performance from Cage (for more, check out Filmfella Lozz’s ‘Hits and Shits of Nicolas Cage’); 2) it’s a Kaufman script, a branding that is (in my opinion at least) synonymous with quality writing; 3) the film manages to deal with at least 3 different subtexts, each handled very well, which is no mean feat.

As someone with ambitions to eventually become a scriptwriter, I consider Adaptation to be remarkably insightful into the mechanics of the humble screenplay. Intertwining the writer’s tumultuous creative struggles with the awkward narrative he has to adapt is a brilliant device, exposing how hard writing a screenplay can be, while relaying the personal trials Kaufman experiences in his daily life. I could drone on about the film’s intelligent narrative arcs, clever cynicism towards the Studio System and the well crafted balance between fact and fiction… but quite frankly it would be dull in comparison to Kaufman’s exceptional work. So go check out Adaptation if you haven’t already and prepare to be introduced to a whole new dynamic in storytelling.

Trivia:  Nic Cage stated that while shooting the film, he ignored all of his acting instincts and played Charlie Kaufman exactly as Spike Jonze asked him to (assuming then, that Cage normally just does what the hell he wants, I guess it explains much of his dubious filmography).

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About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

2 Responses to 5 Movie Recommendations

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Really like the sound of Nine Queens Henry. I’ll definitely check that one out. Thanks man.

    • filmfellahenry says:

      Thanks for reading Mark. While the minimal budget definitely shows, Nine Queens’ well conceived narrative and interesting character dynamic raises it above much of the mediocre fare associated with the well-trodden crime thriller genre. Hope you enjoy it!

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