Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: More Titles in Need of Another Look

So here’s the rest of the alphabet of movies that may or may not be worth another look. Having now seen Thir13en Ghosts twice, this is beginning to look like a risky and unnecessary undertaking, but I’m determined to perservere—at least as far as the titles I have on hand. It’s not that Thir13en Ghosts is any worse than I thought, but it didn’t warrant another look. Opt for its predecessor, the 1999 House on Haunted Hill, instead. Just about everything worth seeing—and a whole lot more—comes from the earlier film. I am sincerely hoping that this does not turn out to be a harbinger of things to come. But let’s look at letters “M” through “Z.”

One thing I find interesting is that quite a few of the filmmakers on the list overall have either retreated to TV, entered into making films sufficiently obscure that they have never made it to the provinces, or have pretty much disappeared altogether. I don’t think this means anything in terms of quality—getting a movie going these days is no mean feat and I could rattle off a fairly long list of people who’ve made a quality film or two and haven’t been able to follow it up. Still, it is an interesting point that might be worth a certain amount of consideration.

The Matador (2005). Dir: Richard Shepard. Pl: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall.

What I said then: “Perched precariously somewhere between popular entertainment and art-house fare, Richard Shepard’s The Matador is a constantly entertaining, invariably good-looking, bittersweet black comedy that’s actually a lot more sentimental than it seems to think. The premise, as expressed by the tag line, “A hit man and a salesman walk into a bar …,” suggests something pretty edgy. The hideous trailer suggests something with maybe a dozen functioning brain cells. The film is something else again. The one thing The Matador is not is some kind of breakthrough for Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble, a role that supposedly puts his James Bond to rest. This isn’t meant to denigrate Brosnan’s performance in the film—he’s very good, sometimes brilliant, and spectacularly unselfconscious—but this isn’t the first time he’s plowed this field.”

This is from the glory days of studios vying for those Ten Best list spots and critics’ group votes—which is to say from when the practice was to book the presumably most likely titles into theaters for critic screenings, usually held at some ungodly early hour. (It’s cheaper to rent a theater in an off hour than when the showing interrupts a public show.) Such was the lot of The Matador. I never understood why exactly. It’s a pleasantly cynical movie, but not—as I recall it—the sort of thing that’s likely to end up on many best lists. Still, the fact that it was thought to be makes me think it might be worth a second go-around. Then again, I was once sent a screener of Legally Blonde for my “consideration,” and didn’t feel compelled to give at another look.

Melinda and Melinda (2005). Dir: Woody Allen. Pl: Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet.

What I said then: “In the pretty much evenly split reviews of Woody Allen’s latest film, those who admire Melinda and Melinda tend to call it either Woody’s best film in ages or a return to form—suggesting that his last few films have been significantly wanting. That’s not a bandwagon I choose to clamber aboard. While his last three films—The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Anything Else—were not on a par with Manhattan, Annie Hall or Stardust Memories, neither were they without merit. Few filmmakers have more than one Manhattan to their credit. In fact, few have even one.”

This is tricky—and it’s especially tricky just now, having just seen Midnight in Paris, which is one of Allen’s most “perfect” films. Melinda and Melinda is a film that I think I wanted to like more than I did. Even with the Will Ferrell factor—Ferrell just isn’t a good Allen substitute—it has an otherwise strong cast, a solid premise, it boasts a trip to a screening of Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). So why am I hesistant to give it another spin? I’m not sure, but I think I need to find out.

Mr. Brooks (2007). Dir: Bruce A. Evans. Pl: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Marg Helgenberger.

What I said then: “Bruce A. Evans’ Mr. Brooks is about one half of something close to a great film that spirals out of control to become a wildly enjoyable compendium of the utterly preposterous, topped off with a rancid maraschino-cherry’s worth of unsatisfying, sub-De Palma shock coda (think: Carrie, Dressed to Kill et al). The basic premise is brilliantly established. Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is an upright—even uptight—businessman of the most boring kind (he heads up a company that manufactures boxes). As the film opens, he’s receiving a Man of the Year award for his philanthropic work in the community, but on his way home with his equally upright wife, Emma (Marg Helgenberger, TV’s C.S.I.), he finds himself suddenly joined by Marshall (William Hurt), his creepy imaginary friend. Actually, Marshall is more than just creepy—he’s Brooks’ homicidal alter ego, the force that prompts Brooks to be a serial killer. Brooks has kept Marshall at bay for two years, but resistance to his blandishments for further killings has worn thin. In fact, it’s soon revealed that Brooks has been selecting his next victims for some time, and it takes very little for Marshall to persuade him to go out on the prowl once more. (Brooks thinks of it in terms of ‘one last time’; Marshall knows better.)”

I have the sense that I enjoyed this more than I should have. More, I have an idea that apart from William Hurt’s performance, the big appeal really rests on getting to say Dane Cook smacked in the face with a shovel. That’s a hard act to top. And its thrill may be a one-time-only thing. But—even while knowing this wasn’t a great movie, even knowing that it went to credibility hell long before the end—I still have an idea that it might be worth another visit.

Music and Lyrics. (2007). Dir: Marc Lawrence. Pl: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnson, Campbell Scott.

What I said then: “I completely forgive Marc Lawrence for the shambles of a screenplay he wrote for Miss Congeniality 2 (2005). His new offering, Music and Lyrics, more than atones for it. No, it’s not a groundbreaking film. It’s not even Hugh Grant’s best film (though it may well be Drew Barrymore’s), but when the competition includes About a Boy (2002) and Love Actually (2003) that’s no disgrace. It is, however, the best Grant vehicle in a straightforward, romantic comedy in some considerable time. It’s witty, playful, charming and satisfying— an unpretentious confection that’s just right and a little bit more.”

I liked absolutely everything about this unassuming little movie. I have no qualms about liking—even loving—romantic comedies as long as they’re good ones. I make zero apologies for liking Hugh Grant—and I think the movies are generally a poorer place without him around, and deplore the fact that this was the last decent thing he was in. For that matter, I sometimes like Drew Barrymore—and this was one of those times. Why then does this sit unwatched on a shelf?

The New World (2006). Dir: Terrence Malick. Pl: Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Q’Orianka Kilcher, August Schellenberg.

What I said then: “I cannot in good conscience recommend The New World. Still, I have to admit that I admired this film more than a number I have recommended. Calling The New World a noble failure or a grand folly would be the easy way out of explaining my high regard for Terrence Malick’s film on the story of Pocahontas (14-year-old newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher) and Capt. John Smith (Colin Farrell). But describing the film that way would not really be true, even though it’s certainly a failure and a folly so far as its box-office prospects are concerned. Yet I’m not sure that it’s nearly that far off the mark artistically.”

This is one of those more-admired-than-liked titles. But the reason I have put off watching it again has more to do with the fact that, for me, what worked about the film was its mood. That’s certainly stronger than its narrative content. My memories of that mood are still surprisingly strong and I’m hesistant to risk losing them to a subsequent viewing, especially one made on a TV monitor.

The Night Listener (2006). Dir: Patrick Stettner. Pl: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Joe Morton, Bobby Cannavale, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh.

What I said then: “Flawed though it is in many respects, Patrick Stettner’s film version of Armistead Maupin’s novel The Night Listener is far and away the most interesting film to open this week. That’s not necessarily a major accomplishment up against Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver, a group of spelunkers getting eaten by blind albino cave dwellers and the seemingly obligatory animated movie of the week. But it’s an accomplishment all the same. Perhaps it will one day seem even more of an accomplishment, since it’s a movie where I can recite a litany of flaws, simplifications, implausibilities, inconsistencies and even (at the very least) borderline cheating—and still feel that I saw something worthwhile.”

Maybe I give this film extra points in the “‘frightening the horses” column, since I admit to my great amusement upon seeing two middle-aged women “needing” to get their money back because they just “couldn’t” watch this movie since it was about “you know … a homosexual.” (They were expecting maybe another RV?) At the same time, I recall it as far better than average mystery thriller with something more on its mind than being just that. That it’s also one of Robin Williams’ few truly underplayed performances helps push me toward visiting it again.

Novocaine (2001). Dir: David Atkins. Pl: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan, Kevin Bacon

What I said then: “Eight years ago David Atkins wrote one of the most bizarre and original screenplays of the ‘90s, Arizona Dream—a work that managed to mix Eskimos, used cars, accordion playing, turtles, stand-up comedy, fantasy, Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, and Lili Taylor into a strangely cohesive and compelling whole. Now, Atkins appears on the scene with Novocaine, which he wrote and directed, and while it’s not quite as rich in oddity as Arizona Dream, it’s in the same key and it’s a directorial debut worth noting.”

Well, if this truly was “a directorial debut worth noting,” it certainly didn’t go anywhere. At this remove, what I mostly remember about the film is that it was darkly funny and out of the ordinary.  Those seem like reasons enough to give it a second look, especially since it’s sitting right here.

Pulse (2006). Dir: Jim Sonzero. Pl: Kristin Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Milian, Rick Gonzalez, Jonathan Tucker.

What I said then: “The day after I saw Pulse someone came up to me and announced he’d just received bad news, and though he never told me what the news was, he complained that it hadn’t been delivered in person or even by a call. Instead it had come to him in the form of a coldly impersonal text message on his cell phone. Technology as impersonal and isolating is exactly the kind of thing that’s at the heart of Jim Sonzero’s Pulse, a flawed horror film with something on its mind besides simple thrills. While the movie is almost too relentless in its over-the-top determination to be horrific, it’s also a surprisingly pointed critique of the perils of our communication-obsessed society. The film is a remake of a 2001 Japanese horror picture by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) called Kairo, which received a limited art house release under the title Pulse and has become something of a cult movie on DVD. Originally slated to be directed by Wes Craven, who co-wrote the remake with Ray Wright, the film was ultimately helmed by newcomer Jim Sonzero.”

I pay little to no attention to movie reviews of horror movies. They so often reflect the mainstream critics’ distaste for or ignorance of the genre. On the other hand, the ones from critics on websites that specialize in horror pictures tend to be either too forgiving, or too condescending for what they think is too mainstream. (And goodness knows, there’s nothing more likely to get piled on than a remake of an Asian horror picture—regardless of whether the original is all that hot.) With all that in mind, I can why you might see no reason whatever the you should pay any attention to my review of a horror film either—at least a modern one—unless, of course, you know we are on similar wavelengths. In any case, I plan on looking at this again … sometime.

The Quiet American (2002). Dir: Philip Noyce. Pl: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thai Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija

What I said then: “It’s not surprising that this movie was held back from release for a period of time, the thought being that it wasn’t something likely to go down well after 9/11. Not that the film is casually ‘distasteful’ in the manner that temporarily put the brakes on junk like Collateral Damage. Nor does it contain newly volatile symbols tied to our national identity (the Twin Towers were digitally removed from the New York City skyline in Zoolander, for instance, and more recently, the trailer for The Core was yanked because it showed the space shuttle in peril). There’s nothing about The Quiet American that directly addresses anything that is currently “sensitive”; the film has proven problematic for very different reasons: Namely, it questions the role of America in world events. The film questions CIA involvement in creating a Vietnam that could effectively be peddled to America—and American politicians—as worthy of U.S. invasion. And while Vietnam is still a volatile subject, the real problem for The Quiet American is that its filmmakers have made it impossible not to connect it to a broader picture of American involvement overseas, especially in the current political climate. That, of course, is the greatness of a film like this: It’s as relevant to today as it is to the time the actual story takes place.”

I am quite certain that the reason I haven’t watched this—if memory serves—estimable film since seeing it theatrically is that it’s the sort of movie I’d pick up if I came across it in a store, or better yet, if there was one in the used section at Orbit DVD. (I am still firmly of the belief that Marc has a button he presses to call in bogus customers when he sees me just so I’ll go through the used bin while waiting to talk to him.)  It’s just not the sort of movie it will likely ever occur to me to order. One day, however, it will cross my path.

The Return (2006). Dir: Asif Kapadia. Pl: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter O’Brien, Sam Shepard, Kate Beahan.

What I said then: “Well, the results are in on The Return, and it seems that the reviews are generally scathing and that it’s being written off as a disaster at the box office. I can’t say that I’m shocked by either announcement, and I can’t say that I think The Return is exactly a good film. Neither do I think it’s without merit. I’ll confess that my views may be colored by the fact that I saw it in special company. The presence of Don Mancini (Seed of Chucky), Jennifer Tilly and her boyfriend, Phil Laak (known in poker circles as ‘The Unabomber’)—all of whom liked it to one degree or another—very likely weighs in on it. But there’s more to it than that. Don put it best a couple days later—‘If I’d run into it on TV knowing nothing about it, I’d have thought that the guy who made it was really talented and worth keeping an eye on.’ Well, the guy who made it is a youngish Brit filmmaker named Asif Kapadia, whose first feature, The Warrior, was well received in the UK, but seems not much known in the U.S. (Miramax is listed as having released it here in 2005). Kapadia is indeed talented and worth keeping an eye on, even if The Return isn’t an entirely satisfactory movie.”

Another of those people to watch that hasn’t given us anything else to watch is Asif Kapadia, whose The Return should have drawn more attention than it did. His next movie, Far North was picked up by Image Entertainment, so its theatrical release here was at best limited. What I most remember about The Return—apart from the startling fact that I didn’t mind Sarah Michelle Gellar in it—is that it was visually striking.

Running Scared (2006). Dir: Wayne Kramer. Pl: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Alex Neuberger.

What I said then: “Warning: Wayne Kramer’s new film, Running Scared, is every bit as over-the-top and violent as you may have heard, and if such things bother you, then this is not the movie for you. For that matter, you might be well advised to look for entertainment elsewhere if you’re in the market for anything approaching a ‘normal’ movie. Whatever Running Scared is, it is about as far from normal as you’re likely to get. If it were a human being instead of a movie, it would be someone you’d walk on the other side of the street to avoid. That’s exactly the reason that it’s also the most fascinating film to be released yet this year—perversely fascinating, but fascinating all the same. Even if you think you know Kramer—either from The Cooler, or his screenplay for the Renny Harlin crapfest Mindhunters—this film will surprise you with its combination of extreme strangeness and its seeming inability to know when too much is enough. Kramer dedicated the film to Sam Peckinpah, Brian De Palma and Walter Hill, which is understandable in Running Scared‘s kinetic flashiness—but its flamboyance and lack of concern over traditional narrative coherence resembles De Palma more than it does the others.”

Running Scared is one of those rare movies that actually shocked me—and it did it within the first few minutes. That alone would have hooked me. That it kept me shocked—and amused—for its entire length was something else again. It also proved—as I knew it probably would—to be one of those movies that would have zero appeal to 90-percent of my readership, and that nothing I said had any positive impact. It died pretty fast. I did manage to see parts of it again when it was playing theatrically, and I did buy the DVD, but it’s just not a film that belongs on a TV, and certainly not one that lends itself to solo viewing.

The Saddest Music in the World (2003). Dir: Guy Maddin. Pl: Isabella Rossellini, Mark McKinney, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox, Ross McMillan, Louis Negin.

What I said then: “Upon hearing that I’d seen this movie, a friend of mine asked, ‘How is Isabella Rossellini in it?’ All I could say was that she gave the finest portrayal of a double-amputee beer baroness outfitted with glass-encased, beer-filled legs that I could imagine. That should clue you in on the level of utter strangeness at work in The Saddest Music in the World. Many movies are said to be ‘not for everybody,’ but this one means it. The film is not like anything else seen on the big screen, except perhaps other movies by Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Maddin has a peculiar approach to film: He shoots on 8mm and video to obtain a ‘degraded’ look. This is the first film of his that I’ve seen, and having watched it twice, I still don’t know if I like it—but I can say it’s fascinating.”

The Saddest Music in the World had a very brief run here—somewhat after its release—at the old Skyland Art Cinema in Hendersonville. I never understood why they booked it. If ever a movie wasn’t made for Hendersonville, this is it. It does, however, mark the only occasion I’m aware of where a Guy Maddin film has played in any theatrical form in this area. Hopefully, with a larger art/indie range being open to us with The Carolina, that may change and we might actually get his new film Keyhole when it comes out. As noted, I watched Saddest Music twice before reviewing it. I have not been able to bring myself to tackle it again. Maybe I’m afraid it’ll make sense.

Secretary (2002). Dir: Steven Shainberg. Pl: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davis, Lesley Ann Warren.

What I said then: “Yep, it’s the year’s much-anticipated, much-discussed S&M romantic comedy. Is it worth the wait? And worth the discussion? Yes, and no. As a piece of writing, the movie is frequently fascinating. The acting by the two leads could not be better: James Spader handles an impossible role, bringing a depth I’d never have guessed he could muster; and Maggie Gyllenhaal—after smaller memorable turns in Cecil B. Demented and Donnie Darko—emerges as a star in one sweeping move. With all this going for the film, it would seem that Secretary should be a shoo-in as one of the best pictures of the year—and, even though it’s a good movie, it isn’t quite all that. I’m not sure exactly what’s missing here, but it seems to be a case of everyone thinking that the subject matter is so very interesting and unusual that it’s all the film needs. To some degree, that’s true, but that mentality sometimes threatens to turn this little movie into My Big Fat Spanking Wedding.”

I’m pretty sure—well, reasonably sure—I’ve got a screener of Secretary. I can’t decide whether or not I really feel any desire to check it out again.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). Dir: Mark Waters. Pl: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Sarah Bolger, Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Seth Rogen.

What I said then: “Mark Waters’ The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the fantasy genre. In fact, I don’t think I saw a single thing in it that I had never seen before, or that I couldn’t at least cross-reference to another movie. Even if faeries, brownies, ogres, goblins, hobgoblins etc. are something of a pleasant variation, the overall story and action is mighty familiar. But at the same time, Spiderwick does what it does remarkably well. Most of the credit should probably go to director Mark Waters, who is no stranger to the fantastic: see Freaky Friday (2003) and the misbegotten Just Like Heaven (2005). Even his much-praised Mean Girls (2004) wasn’t without interjections of cheeky fantasy. The particular kind of fantasy on display here is of a very different kind; however, it’s Waters’ effortless stylishness and innate ability to sympathize with his characters that brings Spiderwick to life as much as—or more than—the impressive array of special effects that make the fantastical creatures of the movie possible.”

I should rewatch this before I see Mr. Popper’s Penguins and find myself wanting to deny that I ever had any use for Mark Waters. I probably won’t, though, since Mr. Popper is less than a week away.

Stuck on You (2003). Dir: The Farrelly Brothers. Pl: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes, Cher, Seymour Cassel.

What I said then: “A fair amount of negative press surrounds this latest offering from Peter and Bobby Farrelly, with most of it centering around the fact that Stuck on You isn’t as wildly funny as There’s Something About Mary—the yardstick, unfortunately, by which Farrelly Brothers movies are measured. To some extent, this typecasting is the Farrellys’ own fault, since they’ve leant their names—and their writing skills—to such lame “gross-out” comedy as Say It Isn’t So, not to mention handling the abysmal live-action sequences of Osmosis Jones. And yet the pair also made the surprisingly warm and humane Shallow Hal, which—to this reviewer at least—marked the brothers’ passage into maturity as filmmakers. While Stuck is broader and less successful than Hal, it’s very much in the same mould. In other words, if you liked Hal, there’s every reason to expect you’ll find the brothers’ new film worth a look.”

This seemed to be the continuation of a more mature Farrelly Brothers—something that had started with Shallow Hal in 2001—and that seemed to be carried over to Fever Pitch (2005), albeit less successfully. But after appalling movies like The Heartbreak Kid (2007) and Hall Pass (2011), I’ve developed a certain hesitance about pulling that copy I picked up off the shelf.

The Tailor of Panama (2001). Dir: John Boorman. Pl: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffery Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela, Harold Pinter.

What I said then: “It’s been 14 years since director John Boorman had a mainstream ‘hit’ with Hope and Glory—or a mainstream film at all. Never the most prolific of filmmakers (most of his films are separated by two to four years), Boorman has willfully bitten the hand that was feeding him at least twice with Zardoz and Exorcist II: The Heretic by convincing major studios to pour money into what were essentially limited audience ‘art’ film disguised as mainstream productions. Consequently, he’s often found an understandable reluctance on the part of studios to back his work. Whether or not he has clamped down on Columbia’s hand with The Tailor of Panama remains to be seen. The film is certainly unorthodox and quirky enough to put off a lot of viewers. What does not remain to be seen, however, is whether 14 years of low-budget obscure films has in any way diminished Boorman’s talents. The answer is a delighted ‘no.’”

I bought this as soon as it hit video—it was in Wal-Mart, of all places, and I always hope that purchases of titles that clearly don’t belong in the store will confuse their buyers. Anyway, there is no excuse for not having rewatched this. None at all.

Thumbsucker (2005). Dir: Mike Mills. Pl: Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves.

What I said then: “I thought the phrase ‘inspired by a true story’ consisted of the most horrifying words I would encounter this weekend. That’s only because no one told me that ‘Music performed by the Polyphonic Spree’ would be emblazoned on the opening credits of Thumbsucker. I know a lot of people hold a different point of view, but the Polyphonic Spree will send me scrambling for the exit faster than you can say, ‘Mannheim Steamroller.’ To put it mildly, their unique sound prompts me to want to take a hostage. So writer-director Mike Mills must have done something really right with his debut feature for it to have ended up being a movie I genuinely liked (not that I’ll be buying the soundtrack, mind). This film adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel about 17-year-old high school student Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci, Personal Velocity) trying to break himself of the habit of sucking his thumb does wear its indie-film status on its sleeve, and it does have that occasional sense of forced quirkiness that mars far too many such ‘small’ movies. But the film wins out in the end, thanks to some wonderful characterizations, happy casting and a degree of weighty insight that may not immediately be apparent.”

With Beginners slated to hit town in the not too distant future, this would be a good time to revisit Mike Mills’ last movie, Thumbsucker. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of it—and then there is that possibility of hearing Polyphonic Spree. Brrr.

V for Vendetta (2006). Dir: James McTeigue. Pl: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt.

What I said then: “This may not be the first great film of 2006, but it’s bound to be one of the most controversial—and that’s not only in its favor, but, I suspect, of greater concern to the filmmakers than is achieving greatness. Based on the anti-Margaret Thatcher graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore, V for Vendetta was adapted to the screen—and modern times—by the Wachowski brothers (of Matrix fame) and turned over to their protege, James McTeigue, to bring to life. Setting aside all the behind-the-scenes blather about Larry Wachowski’s cross-dressing and Alan Moore disowning the film (like he’s disowned every film adapted from his work), what we end up with is an audacious and daunting movie that raises a lot of the right issues in the most outspoken manner possible. Needless to say, all this has caused it to have wrung some withers, raised some hackles and knotted some knickers. And I really think that’s its raison d’etre—to jolt the viewer out of complacency about the happenings in the world.”

I have it. I always felt it was underrated despite the fact that it lacks the sense of music-and-image needed to make the ending really work. I also thought it was badly misunderstood and wrongly condemned by people I suspect mostly never actually watched the movie.

You Kill Me (2007). Dir: John Dahl. Pl: Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall.

What I said then: “You Kill Me is an unassuming little film with a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who, incredibly, were responsible for The Chronicles of Narnia). It’s the kind of movie that’s an obvious labor of love for those who made it (Kingsley and co-star Tea Leoni are among the film’s producers)—and it’s the kind of movie that will have a far longer shelf life than most of the largely disposable big summer blockbusters dwarfing it at the box office. The film works on a simple, deliberately outrageous concept. Frank is the hit man for a Polish mob family in Buffalo. When his drinking causes him to pass out in his car rather than off rival Irish mobster Edward O’Leary (Dennis Farina, TV’s Law and Order), his boss (and uncle) Roman Krzeminski (Philip Baker Hall, Magnolia) parcels him off to San Francisco with instructions to get into AA and pull himself together—or else.”

I don’t have this, but I sure wouldn’t mind coming across it again. Whether I’ll do anything to make that happen is possibly another matter.

Zathura (2005). Dir: Jon Favreau. Pl: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins.

What I said then: “As I settled in and found myself subjected to an ersatz Tim Burton opening-credit sequence (albeit a pretty neat one) backed by an ersatz Danny Elfman score (not so neat, but not disgraceful), it was impossible not to believe that there were some pretty rough seas ahead. Thankfully, director Jon Favreau almost immediately dropped the bogus Burton business and created a movie with its own personality. And a splendid little personality it is. Yeah, Zathura works on pretty much the same premise as Jumanji, which was also adapted from a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg (of Polar Express fame). The entire story is predicated on the concept of playing a board game that whisks the player into another world, and the only way home is to play to the end. There are differences, though, and the biggest lies in the decision not to turn the story into a star vehicle or a CGI-athon. In the hands of Favreau and screenwriters David Koepp (Stir of Echoes) and John Kamps (The Borrowers), the story is simply allowed to be what it is. This is what makes this unassuming movie something rather special.”

I’m determined to seek this out for the simple reason that the more I think about this movie, the more I suspect I like it even better than I thought at the time.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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25 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: More Titles in Need of Another Look

  1. Jim Donato

    There are so many films in this list that I’ve enjoyed and even own, that reading this article makes me want to revisit many of them.

    Richard Shepard’s Matador is practically a cult film in our home. Sadly, his 2007 “The Hunting Party” was a witty and engaging flop of considerable stature. We hope he gets the reins to another film again, but it doesn’t look good.

    You Kill Me was a great return to form from John Dahl, who lost me with Unforgettable [though admittedly, Rounders was quite good]. He seemed to get sucked into television for a long time afterward, where you lose me.

    The Saddest Music In The World was one of those films that I just bought when I saw it in the Ingles sale bin [!] having first heard of Guy Maddin with his intriguing sounding Tales From The Gimli Hospital. Admittedly, a rental of Invasion Of The Ice Nymphs just didn’t work for us even though it featured Frank Gorshin. Still, I would give any Maddin film a chance after the lush and heady SMITW. The funniest thing on the DVD was the Orson Welles-soundalike narrating the documentary. Am I the only person who noticed this?

    Novocaine was the rare film starring Steve Martin that didn’t drive me away. With Music and Lyrics I found it to be a letter perfect film that hit the truths of being a one-time pop star very soundly in its romantic comedy format.

    Tailor Of Panama was wonderful political satire. I consider it the best John Boorman film I’ve ever seen and as long as Geoffrey Rush is onscreen, I guess I’m there [Pirates films excepted]. Yes, Pierce Brosnan gave another of his very worthwhile performances. I can’t say I was ever a fan of him prior to this film, but I certainly saw him in a new light afterward.

    The Quiet American was fantastic! Of all the films you list here that I’ve seen, I think that this is the one that right now I’d like to see again the most. The single film you list that I have seen and I’d pass on was Melinda & Melinda. Will Ferrell as Woody Allen was just too transparent to work for me.

  2. DrSerizawa

    I wanted to like TSSITW more than I did. Actually I did like it quite a lot for about an hour. But it just began to pall. I think it would have been best as a short film. I wouldn’t be able to sit through it again.

    The Matador. Yes, worth another view as is The Tailor Of Panama.

    Pulse I liked less than the low budget 80s film of the same name. I just don’t care a lot for CGI, especially so much of it. It was okay but I’d have to be hard pressed to sit through it again.

    Novocaine felt like my brain had been injected with novocaine. And I usually like Steve Martin, but this was snooze city for me.

    Mr Brooks IMHO was pretty good for what it was since I had no expectations. I DVRed it for a snowy Sunday.

    V For Vendetta.Big budget Hollywood Studio movies with big stars in the cast about the misuse of wealth and political power….. am I the only person who gets overwhelmed by the irony? I kept seeing John Hurt as an avatar of James Cameron. (pun intended)

  3. Ken Hanke

    the Ingles sale bin [!]

    The Ingles sale bin is a resource I am sorry to be losing as Ingles closes out its video depts. Where else was I likely to find Easy Virtue, Tetro, Broken Embraces, and The Ghost Writer at $3 to $5 a pop? I am still unclear as to why the Swannanoa Ingles had multiple copies of any of these titles. They are probably unclear why four copies of Tetro were sold, too.

    Tailor Of Panama was wonderful political satire. I consider it the best John Boorman film I’ve ever seen

    Ooh, strong statement. Not sure I agree with it — offhand, I don’t — but it makes me more likely to watch it again.

    and as long as Geoffrey Rush is onscreen, I guess I’m there [Pirates films excepted].

    So does that mean you saw Bran Nue Dae?

  4. Ken Hanke

    Maybe there are some potential future AFS films in these lists.

    Oh, very possibly, but at one movie a week, I won’t live long enough to show everything I’d like to!

  5. Vince Lugo

    I like V For Vendetta a lot. Although it takes place in England, it’s really about George W. Bush and even today it presents a sobering picture of what this country might have become if his policies had been continued or, god forbid, expanded upon. Watching it now just makes me all the more grateful that that didn’t happen. Aside from all that, though, it’s just a really great vehicle for Hugo Weaving, who I feel is one of the best actors working today and really deserves more recognition. I’m looking forward to seeing him in Captain America.

  6. Jim Donato

    Bran Nue Dae? I can’t say I have heard of it but I have seen Swimming Upstream! It stands head and shoulders as Russell Mulcahy’s finest film… which shouldn’t be saying much [re: Razorback, Highlander] but in this case it does. It’s an excellent 50s biographical period piece starring Rush and Judy Davis as the embattled parents of Australian swim champ Tony Fingleton. After seeing it I enthusiastically checked out Mulcahy’s oeuvre on IMDB and sad to say, it was all processed cheese but for this anomaly.

  7. Jim Donato

    Well, I just checked out your review of Bran Nue Dae [which I missed] and I’d give it a shot for sure.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I wanted to like TSSITW more than I did. Actually I did like it quite a lot for about an hour. But it just began to pall. I think it would have been best as a short film. I wouldn’t be able to sit through it again.

    Well, I’m up on you since I saw it twice. I’m still not saying I liked it. I think I may just admire the fact that anybody would make such a film.

    Novocaine felt like my brain had been injected with novocaine. And I usually like Steve Martin, but this was snooze city for me.

    I wonder if the fact that I usually don’t like Martin very much is a factor in why I liked it?

    V For Vendetta.Big budget Hollywood Studio movies with big stars in the cast about the misuse of wealth and political power….. am I the only person who gets overwhelmed by the irony?

    See, I’ve never understood why it’s ironic or wrong for people to have wealth and power and still have a viewpoint that finds fault with the misuse of wealth and power. If anything, it strikes me as more worthy, since it’s perhaps not in their own best interest.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I like V For Vendetta a lot. Although it takes place in England, it’s really about George W. Bush and even today it presents a sobering picture

    You do realize that it was originally meant to be about Thatcher’s Britain? That doesn’t make what you’re saying wrong per se, it merely underscores the nature of allegory, e.g., Richard Lester’s How I Won the War and Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 are set in WWII, but are as much about Vietnam as anything.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Well, I just checked out your review of Bran Nue Dae [which I missed] and I’d give it a shot for sure.

    If you blinked you missed it. It has a singularly limited appeal. I’m not saying don’t see it, but I wouldn’t go to a lot of effort.

  11. The only film in this list I’ve seen more than once is THE QUIET AMERICAN, and it more than stands up to repeated viewings.

  12. Chip Kaufmann

    Of the movies on this list, the only ones I have revisted are THE MATADOR, MR BROOKS (more than once), MUSIC & LYRICS, THE NEW WORLD, THE QUIET AMERICAN (also more than once), SECRETARY, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (ditto)and V FOR VENDETTA. Two movies which I will not be revisiting anytime soon are NOVOCAINE and SADDEST MUSIC.

  13. Tonberry

    I know I liked to see “The New World” again, just because I’ve been on a Terrence Malick discovery lately in anticipation of “The Tree of Life.” It’s a film I loved its first half and then felt weird with its last half (from fascination to snooze button in a constant five minutes of repeat when John Rolfe is introduced.) In fact, I’d like to see the director’s cut, that is apparently on blu ray. I’ll elaborate on Malick more when your review of “The Tree of Life” is up.

    And guess what? I have a copy of “Thumbsucker,” and I shall lend it to you. I enjoyed its style, and think it features Keanu Reeves at his best. It isn’t a great movie, but after seeing the “Beginners” trailer … it may a good deal of interest to the director.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Two movies which I will not be revisiting anytime soon are NOVOCAINE and SADDEST MUSIC.

    You realize this rising rate of antipathy toward Novocaine is only going to make it certain that I’ll watch it.

  15. Ken Hanke

    I’ll elaborate on Malick more when your review of “The Tree of Life” is up.

    Well, I’ll have to see it first.

    And guess what? I have a copy of “Thumbsucker,” and I shall lend it to you.

    Well, if you hadn’t told me…

  16. Me

    Im still waiting on Tom Scharplings one man show of Mr. Brooks, sadly i don’t think it will ever happen.

  17. Dionysis

    Thumbsucker was on The Sundance Channel last night; I’d not seen it before. Pretty good movie!

    And I must ask…is that a real dead animal wrapped around Ingrid Bergman’s neck in the lead photo?

  18. Ken Hanke

    And I must ask…is that a real dead animal wrapped around Ingrid Bergman’s neck in the lead photo?

    Well, it’s daughter o’ Ingrid Bergman, but as for the animal…my guess is probably. I’m sure it’s cheaper to pick up an old fox fur in a thrift shop than it is to make a fake one.

  19. Dionysis

    “Well, it’s daughter o’ Ingrid Bergman…”

    Of course; boy, does she ever look like a very young Ingrid in that pic!

  20. LYT

    “You do realize that it was originally meant to be about Thatcher’s Britain?”

    Yes, in the BOOK. The movie made thuddingly obvious references to the Bush administration that killed it for me (the gay man praising the poetry of the Koran is just absurdly PC, and the renaming of the dictator character to better rhyme with “Hitler” is just silly. Plus Natalie’s character should be an underage hooker, and V an unrelenting terrorist). The book is beautiful; the film overbearing.

    As for the horror movies mentioned, I’m one of the few who likes the American PULSE better than the original, and stand by you on that one. THE RETURN, however, is putrid.

  21. Ken Hanke

    boy, does she ever look like a very young Ingrid in that pic!

    I suspect that’s partly the period look, but I wouldn’t deny that the Bergman genes seem to dominate the Rossellini ones.

    By the way, Mr. Tonberry made good his Thumbsucker threat, so that’s another for the stack.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Yes, in the BOOK. The movie made thuddingly obvious references to the Bush administration that killed it for me

    Anti-Bush references are always welcome in my house.

    The book is beautiful; the film overbearing.

    Well, not having read the book, I can’t make the comparison, but I’m not generally that concerned with fealty to the source as long as the film works for me.

    As for the horror movies mentioned, I’m one of the few who likes the American PULSE better than the original, and stand by you on that one. THE RETURN, however, is putrid.

    Bear in mind, I’m not making a case for The Return as an unsung classic, and I haven’t revisited it. I did not, however, find it anywhere near the putrid range. That usually requires Michael Bay or Zack Snyder for me.

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