5 Films Worth Watching
September 11, 2012 6 Comments
Stuck for something to watch? Tired of the same generic dross at the local multiplex? Then welcome to my monthly blog post where I recommend 5 worthy films that you may not have seen. Check out the list, watch the movies and I hope you will be somewhat happier for it.
Got a favourite film to recommend? Then post a reply below!
Film: Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)
Director: Frank Capra
Staring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey
Why you should check this out: The concept alone should grab you: two old women run a guesthouse in downtown Brooklyn, where they indulge in ‘charitable’ killings of lonely old men. Aided by resident delusional nephew Teddy Brewster (who is convinced he is Teddy Roosevelt), their macabre schemes go awry when 2nd nephew Mortimer Brewster unexpectedly arrives with new wife Elaine in tow. Attempting to amend his aunts’ misguided ways while keeping Elaine from fleeing, Mortimer’s sanity is further compromised when the murderous 3rd nephew Jonathan appears on the scene, accompanied by his bungling sidekick Dr Einstein.
As you’d expect from a Cary Grant film, Arsenic And Old Lace is a chaotic, energetic, madhouse of a film. Its irreverence when dealing with a sinister narrative is wonderfully fresh (similar in this regard to Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry) while raising the bar for elderly characters. Filled with humour, questions of morality and Cary Grant’s incessant gurning, it’s impossible not to enjoy this timeless classic.
Trivia: Cary Grant donated the entirety of his film salary ($100k) to the US War Relief Fund.
Film: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Staring: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi
Why you should check this out: Although Miyazaki has become something of a household name, The Castle Of Cagliostro (or Lupin The Third) is an anime feature that is largely unknown to many of his fans. Predating Studio Ghibli, Cagliostro is a remarkably off-beat, fast-paced adventure that is arguably one of his freshest and most unique works to date.
Following the adventures of master thief Arsene Lupin III and his chain smoking counterpart Daisuke Jigen, Miyazaki takes a traditional heist narrative and turns it on its head: Cagliostro sports an ancient castle, murderous megalomaniac, bumbling police, a kidnapped princess and hidden secret cities. And let’s not forget the bizarre, punchy humour that works so well in making this early work so much fun to watch.
If you are Ghibli fan or just simply like anime, then Cagliostro is a must-see.
Trivia: The Castle Of Cagliostro was the first anime feature to be screened at the Cannes film festival.
Film: Adam & Paul (2004)
Director: Leonard Abrahamson
Staring: Tom Murphy, Mark O’Halloran, Gavin Dowdall
Why you should check this out: Adam and Paul are two heroin addicts who ineptly stumble through the backstreets of Dublin in search of their next fix. Running dry on money, pals and the luck o’ the Irish, their future is a bleak one, where cold turkey seems to be the only destination.
And I found it hilarious.
Now before I’m branded a twisted bastard (which Filmfella Darren regularly does) I must point out that Adam & Paul is actually intended to be a comedy. Railing against so many ‘issue’ films that purely focus on the tragedy of drug addiction, the brainless duo’s absurd attempts to find more smack is possessed of enough humour that they are gradually raised beyond the stereotypical object of pity. Funny, poignant and permeated with an often bleak outlook, Adam & Paul won’t be for everyone, but it is certainly interesting and to a noticeable degree, fresh.
Trivia: Both Adam (Mark O’Halloran) and Paul (Tom Murphy) were believed to be genuine junkies by the Irish Garda and told to leave the set.
Film: The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Director: David Mamet
Staring: Steve Martin, Ben Gazzara, Campbell Scott
Why you should check this out: A gem that I only recently discovered, The Spanish Prisoner benefits from Mamet’s outstanding writing (he penned the screenplays for Ronin, Glengarry Glen Ross and The Edge to name a few) and directorial prowess. Essentially a complex corporate thriller, Joe Ross is an unassuming inventor possessing a priceless product formula that everyone wants. Surrounded by a web of false friends, deceit and potential betrayal, Joe struggles to protect a share of what is rightfully his, while a host of enemies machinate schemes most devious to steal it from him.
For fans of intricate subtle plot lines, fantastic dialogue and Steve Martin actually giving a decent performance (and not in a comedy role for a change), you shouldn’t miss out on The Spanish Prisoner. It’s wonderfully executed, relatively timeless (thanks to a few small yet effective plot devices) and guaranteed to make you demand a re-watch as soon as the credits roll. Which is what I intend to do next.
Trivia: The Spanish Prisoner has connections to Kafka’s work: In the film, the main character is called Joseph, who invents a ‘process’; Kafka’s novel Der Prozess features a protagonist also named Joseph who is framed and becomes enmeshed in a situation that spirals beyond his control.
Film: Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Staring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
Why you should check this out: While most film fans have seen The Big Lebowski, Fargo and No Country For Old Men, for some reason Miller’s Crossing often gets overlooked. Which I find crazy as I consider it to be in the running for the best Coen Brothers film to date. So what makes Miller’s Crossing such a masterpiece (there, I’ve said it: not just good, a masterpiece)?
Firstly, the narrative is a beautiful, intricate web of double dealings, plots within plots and misdirection. While retaining the usual Prohibition-era tommy gun and brass knuckles violence, it also takes a deeper, more subtle look at the mechanics of mob power, epitomised by protagonist Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne): a character who spurns physical strength for mental and tactical superiority. Secondly, the dialogue is perfect, utilising a plethora of ’20’s slang that not only adds a subtle depth to the complex storyline, but also gives a genuine feel of period authenticity. Then we have the outstanding performances: John Polito reprising his best role yet as the jaded gangster Johnny Caspar; Albert Finney excels as the seemingly indestructible head honcho Leo; and Coen regular John Turturro gives life to a wonderfully slimy, despicable character that is a pleasure to hate. That’s obviously not forgetting the brilliant lead performance from Gabriel Byrne, J.E. Freeman’s hulking psychopath Eddie Dane and a typically neurotic Steve Buscemi. Even Sam Raimi has a cameo as a gun-toting cop.
And of course, there is the typically high standard score from Carter Burwell, great cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld and Leslie McDonald provides art direction to such a standard you’ll start believing you live in a speakeasy. Forget The Untouchables, Public Enemies and other sub-par ’20’s gangster flicks: Miller’s Crossing tops them all. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. If you have, go watch it again.
Trivia: During a three week spell of writer’s block while penning the script for Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brother’s wrote Barton Fink (of which there are numerous references in the film). Those humblingly talented bastards.
Filmfella Henry giving you all the high hat.