Sunday, February 26, 2006

Film Forum

Well, it's been a whole damn month since we last had a nice discussion of our favorite lesser-known films. So let's get it on.

Before I get into my own rental activity, I want to give some time to a film that's still in theaters -- Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight. The lovely and talented Malibu Stacy and I just saw it last night, and we were both incredibly impressed.

The documentary is an exploration of the origins and steady growth of the military-industrial complex and the ways in which that relationship has undergirded the war in Iraq. While that sounds like a recipe for a far-leftist Michael-Moore screed, this flick is a lot more measured in its presentation and, as a result, a lot more effective in the end. It's not simply a villification of the current Republican administration (though there are plenty of eyebrows raised there), but rather a look over the past fifty years at the ways in which militarization has been encouraged by both parties. If the movie has a hero, in fact, it's definitely former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a career military man who well understood the pernicious influence of the "military-industrial complex," a phrase that he coined himself.

The documentary makes good use of archival newsreel footage and contemporary interviews in equal measure -- including a conman/salesman from KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, who is shown literally performing card tricks and bragging about "collusion" at an arms show. The film is nicely shot and well paced, and it gets its point across without ramming it down the audience's throats. It's just excellent. Be sure to see it when it comes to your town. You won't be disappointed.

Alright, on to the main purpose of this post, here's some of my recent rental activity:

Point Blank (1967): This is a classic slice of Lee Marvin, who stars here as a criminal who's doublecrossed by his partner and left for dead, but comes back to get the money he's owed. This was remade not too long ago as Payback, a fair enough film with Mel Gibson in the lead role, but seeing Marvin work his magic here really puts that film to shame. The other roles are all filled with terrific actors -- John Vernon as the two-timing partner who gives new meaning to "double secret probation," Carroll O'Connor as a mob boss, and Angie Dickinson as the new love interest. Great work all around.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975): This was a recommendation I got from iRod, our resident kung fu expert, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Aside from the odd fact that the "hero" of the film is an insane blind bastard who slices the heads off chickens and loud restaurant patrons, while the "villain" is a kind martial arts instructor, the film is pure kung fu goodness. A large portion is essentially Mortal Kombat come to life -- a tournament in which a badass variety of martial artists go Ming Dynasty on each others' asses. Good stuff.

Mean Streets (1973):
This isn't exactly obscure or new even to me. But I recently gave this classic flick another viewing, and I was surprised at how new it seemed. I suppose the first time I saw the film, I was really preoccupied by the performance of Robert DeNiro, who made his Scorsese debut here not in the cool and calculating roles he would later play in films like GoodFellas and Casino but as a colossal screw-up. But this time I was struck by how incredible Harvey Keitel was in that kind of role instead. Plus, Scorsese's considerable chops as a director are already on display, with plenty of classic-rock slo-mo camera pans and nice wiseguy dialogue. If, like me, you haven't seen this in a while, I'd recommend giving it another look.

Logan's Run (1976): I'd never actually seen this sci-fi classic before, so I thought I'd take a look. The basic plot is an interesting one -- a utopian future where people are killed when they reach the age of thirty -- but dear Lord is it all ruined by the cheesy sets and the cheesier acting. Michael York is the lead character here, a cop who hunts down the "runners" who refuse to go to their deaths quietly, and it's like watching a lobotomized Ken doll in community theater. Ugh. Apparently, Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) is working on a remake of this, and if anyone can make the most of a good premise, it's him.

Alright, your turn. The responses last time we great, so let's give it another try: Which lesser-known movies -- forgotten classics, obscure indie flicks, foreign films, etc. -- have been a pleasant surprise for you? Any old favorites worth another look? What should we, the Netflix Members of North America, have queued up?


sideshow bob said...

I haven't seen Why We Fight, but I've heard a lot about it. From what I've heard, Eisenhower originally called it the congressional-military-industrial complex, which seems a more apt description.

One of my favorite movies that no one I know has seen (although I'm sure youse guys will know it well) is Welcome to the Dollhouse. I've heard that there's a sequel out to this movie that takes place after Dawn's suicide...anyone know about that?

Otto Man said...

In the farewell address, he just called it the mil-ind complex, but he did later add that Congress was the third leg.

Haven't heard anything about a WttD sequel. Intriguing.

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

I wish I had part of a Netflix Q. {sniff} Every other day, I watch Dr. Whom DVDs flow in and out.

Otto Man said...

You've got to lay the hammer down, Mrs. T. Split that account into two queues and run your own.

(Sorry to betray you, Thrillhous, but no woman should be forced to watch Dr. Who. Christ, I'm a sci-fi geek and even I can't stand that show.)

Tom Hilton said...

Ever see Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit)? It's a great, intelligent late-sixties science fiction/horror hybrid from Hammer Studios bringing together the Devil, aliens, human evolution, and an apocalyptic finale.

Just watched the first in the House of Cards trilogy--Ian Richardson as a ruthless (and widkedly funny) Tory MP working his way up the ladder; think Macbeth meets Richard III in immediately post-Thatcher Britain.

And speaking of BBC political dramas, A Very British Coup is a must-see. It's about how the British intelligence establishment, the CIA, and right-wing press conspire to undermine a radical Labour PM.

Mr Furious said...

I spent a good hour last night watching movie trailers at the Apple Quicktime site. I had not heard about Why We Fight until I watched the preview last night—I was intrigued, and I am glad to hear it's good.

I don't really have any movies—obscure or otherwise—to plug right now, my consumption is waaay down.

Trailers I saw last night that look interesting...
Thank you For Smoking

Otto Man said...

Thanks for the recs, Tom. Those look interesting.

Definitely check it out, Mr. F. It won the Sundance Documentary Award, I believe, and it's easy to see why.