Yes, it’s summertime, which means it’s the season for the big blockbusters such as Captain America: The First Avenger, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the latest Harry Potter movie. They’re grandiose, popular movies that everyone knows about and that many people will see, just like all the big-budgeted, powerhouse films that have preceded them throughout the years from Gone With The Wind to Avatar. That’s all well and good. Many blockbusters are fine films. However, there are literally thousands of films produced every year that a lot of folks will never know about that are truly worthwhile productions. They don’t become popular for a variety of reasons, like a limited theatrical run (or none at all), a lack of support in the media, or just that there’s a modicum of bona fide big-name “movie stars” in the release. But, that doesn’t mean these films are necessarily any less vital or entertaining, regardless of what some people may believe. Therefore, from time to time I’m going to point out some films that may not be in the general public’s consciousness that were truly solid offerings. Here are a few under the radar gems that I discovered only recently:
Felon (2008): First of all, I’m a sucker for prison films. The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, etc., and the list goes on and on. I’m also a sucker for Val Kilmer (speaking of underrated, under the radar movies with Val, check out Spartan and The Salton Sea). But many film buffs out there may not know about this production co-starring Kilmer, with Stephen Dorff as the lead. Dorff is a family man who goes to jail for involuntary manslaughter and finds himself to be quite the fish out of water. He must then take extreme measures to survive in the joint, and forms an unlikely bond with serial killer Kilmer. Without giving too much away, I’m always incredibly intrigued when bad men are turned into heroes in film. By the end of the film, one kind of feels for Kilmer and can almost identify with where he’s coming from. It’s certainly a unique take on criminals, the prison system, and family… and Harold Perrineau is incredibly effective as a crooked guard.
Women In Trouble (2009)/Elektra Luxx (2010): Sebastian Gutierrez directed this pair of films that deals with a group of women in… well, trouble. From a porn star (Carla Gugino) who gets pregnant to a therapist whose husband is cheating on her, all of the predicaments are comical, charming, and sometimes rather poignant in these acerbic comedies. The dialogue is snappy and the pacing is engaging. The sequel, Elektra Luxx, is actually slightly superior, and focuses more on the Gugino title character and her life after leaving the adult industry, featuring fun turns from Marley Shelton, Adrianne Palicki, Malin Akerman, and Julianne Moore. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt steals the movie as a XXX-rated film critic who takes his job a little too seriously… oh and just for the record, Emmanuelle Chriqui is one of the most beautiful women on the planet.
Daydream Nation (2010): It’s not just the name of a Sonic Youth album. It also happens to be a cool little film starring Kat Dennings (You know, the cute young girl from The 40 Year Old Virgin soon to be starring in CBS’ 2 Broke Girls). Dennings plays a restless teenager who’s moved from the big city to a Podunk town where she soon gets in over her head. Out of boredom, Dennings starts an affair with her troubled teacher (Josh Lucas) while also starting a casual relationship with an equally vexed fellow student (Reece Thompson). Of course, problems arise when both young men fall deeply in love with Dennings as she develops a reputation as a slut. What’s more, all this is going on while there’s a serial killer loose in the neighborhood. Picture the movie Juno, as one critic put it, if it was directed by David Lynch. Good, offbeat fun with a fine supporting cast including Andie MacDowell and Rachel Blanchard.
Burning Palms (2010): Life in L.A. It can be a bit surreal, shallow, and sordid all at the same time. An admirable ensemble cast permeates this film, featuring five individual vignettes, that serves as a dark satire on the seamy underbelly that concerns living in the City of Angels. Rosamund Pike is great as a soon-to-be wife who grows suspicious over the relationship between her fiancé (Dylan McDermott) and his teenage daughter. One of my all-time favorite alumni from The Real World, Jamie Chung, plays a young college girl who encounters a major problem after granting her boyfriend’s request in the bedroom. This one may be the best of the bunch. It’s so wrong… and so hilarious. Of course, there’s also the gay male couple who adopt a young, Third World black girl as a fashion accessory, a group of kids who torture their maid to an incredible degree, and a woman (Zoe Saldana) who develops a crush on her rapist! So, all together, it’s five tales that will mess you up for life. Nick Stahl, Shannen Doherty, Paz Vega, Anson Mount, and Lake Bell all do their due diligence in this twisted, yet completely enjoyable effort.
Hobo With A Shotgun (2011): C’mon, you can’t go wrong with Rutger Hauer as a bum who decides to clean up the streets with his swift brand of justice. Our Movie Irv has already posted his take on the way over-the-top exploitation film that was originally a trailer in the Canadian theatrical run of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, and you can see that here. While it seemed to me that Irv’s review of the film was a cautiously lukewarm to positive slant on contest winner Jason Eisener’s directorial debut in the vein of Machete (that was also a Grindhouse trailer expanded into a feature film), I can’t recommend this movie enough for those who have the stomach for it. Irv is definitely right. The film certainly isn’t subtle. It’s violent, bloody, and laced with dark humor. Basically everything anyone would want in a tribute to the exploitation genre of the 1970s. All the senseless bloodshed and heinous crimes perpetrated in the film only serve to up the ante for Hauer, who just wanted a fresh start, but now must fight for his life by… well, killing everyone in sight in a variety of creative ways. It’s a gory, garish good time.
Have an under-the-radar favorite? Let us know.