Friday, July 16, 2010

My Not-So Cult Films

Having written a bit about Miller’s Crossing, I was thinking as well about some other movies that have had an impact on me, or, at the very least, have amused, amazed, or captivated me in ways that, I suspect, they have not with the next guy. Who is this proverbial next guy anyway? Fuck the next guy if he can’t see why Children of Men is the best movie of the last 20 years.

So here are some of those movies that I love way out of proportion. Let me state that many of these films are well regarded, and surely I am not the only one who has such admiration for them. I know I am not special or in some sort of a singular cult. That being said, here we go:

Children of Men

I’ve written about this one in the past as well. Few films work on every level the way that this one does. The direction is first rate and the story is spectacular. Form and content kick equal ass. The acting, the set design, the costumes, everything feels perfect. Well, as perfect as art can be, which is damn near perfect. Which is what Children of Men is. Seriously, this is the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The Vampire’s Kiss

I think I merely laughed when I first saw it and moved on, ready to take in the next oddity in a period of my life that was saturated with cult films. One began to resemble the other and often I found it difficult to separate the good (like this) from the trash (like, say, Horror House on Highway 5). This worked against my theory that art and trash are of equal importance, as one cannot understand or recognize one without the other. I needed to chill on the marathon movie watching. I mean, life is too short, or so it started to seem. Anyway, this movie was all over the dregs of cable late last year and I gave it a fresh look. Holy shit! Why have I not been watching it every month for the last fifteen years? Nick Cage is out of his fucking mind in this movie, giving the greatest performance of his career. Screw Leaving Las Vegas, this is Oscar worthy, seeing as no one else could have been so compelling and bat-shit crazy. I mean, the guy ate a cockroach for the film. Doesn’t that warrant an Oscar?

An aside: the movie was written by Joe Minion (great name) who also penned Motorama and After Hours (my favorite Scorsese film) though it was revealed that he stole a chuck of the After Hours story from Joe Frank. Minion seems like someone I should know more about, but, for fear that I’d discover another crack in his façade, I’ll just stop with Vampire’s Kiss.


All things considered, this is not as brilliant a film as I thought when I first saw it, but hey, it holds up for me for a lot of reasons. Sure, the gimmick is what snags a lot of viewers—hard boiled film noir plot and dialogue transplanted to a contemporary high school. And there’s the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun as the detective lead. Yeah, the simple conceit of the film is just that: simple. Amusing, yes, and definitely what first strikes the viewer, but that alone would not be enough to sustain anyone’s interest through a feature length film. The story had to be tight to work, and, in this writer’s humble opinion, tight it is. There are all the usual elements of great films noir: crime, the shady lady, the smart and cynical protagonist with a secret soft side, the big boss behind the desk, the muscle, a murder. But, you know, with kids. Anyway, fuck the kids; this story would have worked with the aged, or midgets for that matter.

Our Lady of the Assassins

I may be in a small cult of one or two with this one. No one seems to be as excited over this movie, what with it being shot on video and using local street toughs, few of which can act. But rising above the limitations and flaws of this tiny, forgotten film is something captivating that seems to escape my description. I never do the movie justice when I talk about it. (“It’s got rent boy thugs in Medellin and, um, a suicidal writer…”) This one came and went as quickly as Before Night Falls, both around the same time. For some lunkheaded reason I confused the two and thought I was going to be seeing the story of Reinaldo Arenas in Cuba. There may some minor similarities (both deal with gay Latin American writers, one suicidal, the other a suicide) but the two movies are very different from each other (as are the two authors). One of the big differences is that no one I know (aside from me and Cassandra) saw Our Lady of the Assassins. It made not the splash of Before Night Falls, which, by the way, is a damn fine film and has done much to make the work of Arenas more widely read. I would hope that the achievement of Our Lady of the Assassins would demand more of Fernando Vallejo’s work get translated into English. Sadly, that’s not the case at this time. Oh well. Maybe someone will look back this film and get interested. Maybe I ought to learn some more Spanish and do it myself.

Death and the Maiden

There’s a four way tie for best Polanski film in my book (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Death and the Maiden) but, if pressed, I might say that this is my real number one pick. It has a lot of things going on that would appeal to me and my interests: the aftermath of Pinochet’s Chile, the grim details of torture, a sort of revenge, a bad-ass Sigourney Weaver, but most of all this has Ben Kingsley in his best role. He recites a chunk of dialogue late in the film that never fails to give me chills. This alone makes the movie worth not only watching but memorizing. Credit goes to Ariel Dorfman for writing the play and co-writing the script, but Polanski’s fingerprints are all over this. Similar to so many of his movies, this one deals with the disruption of the domestic, and while the action all takes place in one main setting, the great filmmaker manages to do some subtle, striking things with the camera. Not ever to be missed.