Missing Reels: “Forbidden Zone” (1980)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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With the easy delivery of films via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and a host of other choices, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen everything. This feeling can be especially true when looking at mainstream films which have a sameness to them that permeates the medium: the same tropes, the same familiar group of actors, the same story points endemic to the genre. So in order to find something new, something unlike anything you’ve seen before, you should seek out more independent flair, as there’s no focus group to market those.

Although indie films have their own clichés that rise up in waves every few years, depending on which indie darling is making a splash currently and getting studio gigs or selling out at Sundance, there’s still a better chance of finding something unique in the rogue filmmaking of outsiders than possibly what could be made by most studios. And you don’t have to look for the most recent films to find something new or pushing the envelope; there are plenty of undiscovered gems from the past as well. And for those that feel like they’ve seen everything but haven’t watched 1980’s “Forbidden Zone?” Then brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Missing Reels: “The Fearless Freaks” (2005)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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“You don’t even have to be a fan of the music!” That’s a lie that people often spread about music-centered films. Whether it’s a biopic, a documentary or a concert film, fans of the movie will insist that, in order to like it, viewers don’t even have to like that particular artist’s music. It simply isn’t true. If you don’t like Ray Charles music, then those recording sessions in “Ray” will seem fruitless; if you’re not a fan of The Talking Heads, then “Stop Making Sense” is an interminable bore. No matter how well crafted the film is around those scenes, or how well shot the performances are, if you don’t dig the music on display, you won’t really like what’s happening on screen.

So I won’t repeat that lie here about the music of The Flaming Lips when watching the documentary “The Fearless Freaks.” I will, however, say that there’s a lot more going on here than just the music, which is true of the band itself. The Flaming Lips have always been about the experience, whether it’s their four-disc Zaireeka album played simultaneously, or their freak-out concerts, and the same goes for the documentary which covers their odyssey from crappy punk band to psychedelic musical masters. It helps if you’re already partial to some of their music to enjoy this film, but if not, then hopefully you can enjoy its simple story and arresting images.

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Missing Reels: “Fulltime Killer” (2001)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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Hong Kong has long been the source of lots of great action, from the Shaw Brothers’ kung fu epics, to John Woo’s ultra-cool crime stories of the ’80s and ’90s. But while many people may think that the action scene has moved on to other parts (mostly Thailand and South Korea, plus a mini-boom of excellent American direct-to-video films like “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” and its ilk), there’s still a lot to offer from the once reigning king of cinematic punches and gunshots. Johnnie To is most famous for his “Election” films, gripping crime dramas about rival gangs and who controls them, but before he made those, he directed a film (with Wai Ka-Fai) that oozes charm, a clever narrative structure and excellent action sequences.

2001’s “Fulltime Killer” is the story of two rival assassins: O (Takashi Sorimachi) is a methodical and utilitarian killer for hire who dispatches his targets with a cold, emotionless disconnect; Lok (Andy Lau) is a flamboyant slayer of men who is inspired by western action flicks and makes each kill an operatic masterpiece of mayhem. O is the top assassin in Asia, given the big paying jobs because he always gets them done and remains steps ahead of Interpol. Lok is sick of living in O’s shadow and decides to target the top dog by first integrating himself into O’s life, then by taking out O’s targets himself, before eventually directly confronting the killer. It’s a blend of the cool of John Woo’s “The Killer,” the tense buddy relationship at the heart of “Hard Boiled,” mixed with the self-reflective skin of a Tarantino bloodbath.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Raising Arizona

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: Raising Arizona (1987)

Even if you haven’t heard of Joel and Ethan Coen, you’ve sure as hell heard of some of their films. The brothers have jointly written, directed, and produced such modern classics as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit. Their work bounces around in time, space, and genre—the Coens never make the same movie twice—and they’ve been renowned for it over the past three decades, with 13 Academy Award nominations and four wins.

Before all those accolades, the Coen brothers made their debut with 1984’s Blood Simple, a neo-noir thriller. Not wanting to make a reputation as one-trick ponies, they avowed to make to their next project as different from their first as possible. Out of that desire, the one-of-a-kind screwball comedy Raising Arizona was born.

Our protagonist is Herbert I. “Hi” McDonnough, played by the polarizing Nicolas Cage, who can make or break a movie depending on whether or not he fits his character. Hi is the type of lovable nitwit that often fills Coen fare: an erudite idiot reminiscent of Lebowski’s Dude, if he’d been born in an Arizona trailer park and had a penchant (though not necessarily a skill) for robbing 24-hour convenience stores. Luckily, Cage slips into Hi’s skin masterfully, right down to the wacky hairdo and funny accent (“Temp-ee, Arizona”). The performance remains one of his best to date, although ultimately Adaptation takes the cake.

Opposite Cage is Holly Hunter as the tight-lipped policewoman, Edwina or “Ed,” who’s always taking the recidivist Hi’s mugshot photos. After one particularly fateful arrest, Hi finds Ed in tears and learns that her fiance has left her. He proposes after his latest release from prison, and the two get married and move into a tiny trailer in the Arizona desert, which Hi lovingly calls a “suburban starter home.” One of the film’s many sources of comedy is the contrast between the upbeat world of Hi’s narration and that of the more objective reality we see on screen.

Hi does his best to “stand up and fly straight” after settling into married life, getting a job in a machine shop, but finds it difficult “with that darned Reagan in the White House.” Nonetheless, as time passes, the couple want to take the logical next step and start a family. Unfortunately, “biology is against them,” as they receive the unhappy news that Edwina is “barren,” and they’re denied the chance to adopt because of Hi’s criminal record.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Bottle Rocket

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bottle Rocket” (1996)

Before Wes Anderson was a household name (at least among movie buffs), before receiving Oscar nominations for The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, before The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic, yes, before all of that, he and Owen Wilson co-wrote the screenplay for Bottle Rocket. It was based on a short film of the same name they’d made in 1992 and released in 1994. Bottle Rocket was Anderson’s directorial debut and marked the first appearances of Luke and Owen Wilson, as well as their lesser known older brother, AndrewLeslie Mann, now famous for her many roles in husband Judd Apatow’s films, even had a small part, though it was eventually left on the cutting room floor.

Anderson’s first film is an interesting look back at the development of filmmaker’s now signature style: the methodical cinematography, with its bright coloring and compulsive need to center-frame the actors, along with humor so dry you’d better pack a canteen. Though a commercial failure, Bottle Rocket served as a launching pad for the careers of all those names above, so easily recognized here in 2013. But the film is worth a watch on its own merits, even for those who aren’t intrigued by the idea of taking a look at the early work of a couple of future A-listers. Thanks to Anderson’s burgeoning style and its innocent, humorous characters, Bottle Rocket has been certified fresh and holds an 80 percent rating on the TomatoMeter. If that’s not enough to sway you, Martin Scorsese named it his seventh favorite movie of the 1990’s. Yes, that Martin Scorsese.

Alright, enough blabber, onto the film itself. Bottle Rocket is a caper comedy about a couple of twenty-something Texans (just like Anderson and the Wilsons were when they made the film) determined to become master thieves. It begins when Dignan (Owen Wilson) aids his best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) in “escaping” from a mental hospital. In truth, Anthony checked himself in voluntarily and it happens to be the last day of his stay, but he goes along with the charade to please his friend. Dignan, who is both endlessly optimistic and endlessly naive, then shares his “75-year plan” for a glamorous life of crime. Hopefully you’re beginning to see the style of humor the film employs.

Dignan’s scheme includes a few small-time heists before meeting with a Mr. Henry (played by James Caan, perhaps best known for his role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather), whose landscaping business Dignan worked for (and was fired from). Dignan seems to believe Mr. Henry is some kind of criminal mastermind, though whether or not that’s the case remains in question for much of the film, and the truth of the matter is best left unspoiled. Anthony goes along with the idea for much the same reasons he allowed Dignan to “rescue” him from the mental hospital—he doesn’t want to disappoint his friend, who’s oh so excited, and hey, he’s got nothing better to do.

Along the way, the two recruit Bob Mapplethorp (Robert Musgrave) as a getaway driver, because he’s the only person they know who owns a car. Although in fact, the car belongs to Bob’s wealthy parents. The eccentric trio endures a great deal of mockery from Bob’s brother, John Mapplethorp, aka Futureman (Andrew Wilson), whenever he crosses their path.

After they rob a local bookstore (in hilarious fashion), the guys hide out in a cheap motel near the Mexican border. There begins another major plotline, as Anthony falls in love with a Paraguayan maid named Inez, though she speaks little English and he no Spanish. That alone is a fantastic indication of Anthony’s character, and it makes it all the funnier that he’s the voice of reason in the film’s merry little band of thieves.

Bottle Rocket is great entertainment whether you’ve heard of Wes Anderson or not. Dignan, Anthony, and Bob are lovable misfits, and their interactions make for a great deal of subtle, witty humor. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s work and aren’t a fan then this one may not be for you. However, I recommend you check it out nonetheless. He’s the type of director that can take some time and understanding to appreciate. If you’ve put that time in and still don’t like his work, well, there’s no accounting for taste. I mean, anyone who disagrees with Marty freakin’ Scorsese on the subject of film is probably missing the point. Anyway, watch the damn thing and see for yourself.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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