From The Published Archives: Seek Out A Video Hidden Treasure

This is another one of my previously published pieces from The Hamilton Spectator.  It appeared on the YourPlace page, F4 of the Entertainment section, on Wednesday, June 5, 2002. 
Because I didn’t think I could write a decent movie review, focusing on one title, in 700 words, I tried a different tactic.  I always tried to think of interesting ideas that would be relatively easy to finish off in a quick manner, particularly when it came to writing for the YourPlace page.  So, I came up with the idea of singling out 5 films that never found an audience in the theatre that deserved to find an audience on home video.  I ended up writing short capsule reviews of these movies and it turned out really well.  The Spec made exactly one edit.  (A comma was turned into a period.  That was it.)
Originally titled The Movies You Should Be Renting, the paper changed it to "Seek Out A Video Hidden Treasure".  The article was accompanied by a couple of nice photos.  There was an enormous still of Oscar-nominee Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit from a scene in Almost Famous which was parked to the left of the piece.  And on the right side, surrounded by my words, there was a much smaller shot of Matt Damon in a cowboy hat on a horse from a scene in All The Pretty Horses.  The layout looked great and I’m still happy with it 4 years later.
4 of the films mentioned in the article – The Iron Giant, All The Pretty Horses, Love And Basketball and Tigerland – were screened on full-screen VHS.  (They were all borrowed from The Hamilton Public Library.)  Almost Famous was the only DVD rental of the pack.  That was during a period where I screened only some films on widescreen DVD while the rest were Public Library tapes.  By December 2002, greatly influenced by something Roger Ebert had written that year, I reversed my policy.  Now, everything I see is on DVD.  Very rarely do I watch anything on tape.
Seek out a video hidden treasure
Go with a lesser-known title for your next movie rental
Special To The Hamilton Spectator

The next time you rent a movie from your local video store, avoid the popular releases for once in your life. Instead of grabbing a freshly pressed smash off the shelf, take a chance by seeking out a lesser known title. The best films being made today are often the smaller ones that fail to compete with the big budget blockbusters like Spider-Man and Attack Of The Clones. Thanks to home video, you get another chance to see a terrific film you should’ve seen in the theatre. Here are some recommendations:

1. The Iron Giant (1999)

This animated charmer would’ve found an audience if it didn’t have to compete with the unstoppable blockbuster, The Sixth Sense. Featuring some breathtaking animation, The Iron Giant is an alien war machine who crash lands in a small American town on Earth in the 1950s and befriends a young boy, obsessed with science fiction, who saves his life one night. Jennifer Aniston is the voice of the boy’s mother. She’s a widow constantly working late at the local diner while her son pretty much does what he wants while she’s away. Christopher McDonald is appropriately slimy voicing the opportunistic FBI agent. Harry Connick Jr. is surprisingly charming as a friendly junkyard sculptor, and yes, that’s Vin Diesel, delightful and sweet as the title character. There are moments in this film that will break your heart.

2. All The Pretty Horses (2000)

Released in the crowded month of December, Billy Bob Thornton’s beautifully photographed romantic western got lost amongst the more popular Oscar contenders. This is a film that makes you fall in love with its landscape. (It was filmed in New Mexico and Texas.) At the heart of the film is a forbidden romance between a drifter (Matt Damon) and a Mexican woman (Penelope Cruz in her best performance), who he meets while working on her father’s ranch. He’s played nicely by Ruben Blades. Also good is Damon’s buddy, Henry Thomas. All in all, an effective drama with emotional truth.

3. Love And Basketball (2000)

Omar Epps is a cocky high school basketball star who can’t stop thinking about his next door neighbour, also a talented baller (Sanaa Lathan), and the feeling is mutual. The result is a wonderfully moving, humourous and surprisingly insightful film that not only gives you a sweet and convincing love story but some insight into the temptations NBA pros face. Separated into 4 quarters (get it?), we meet the future lovers as fighting kids and follow them through adolescence straight into the perils of adulthood. Dennis Haysbert is excellent as Epps’ father, an ex-NBA pro whose indiscretions catch up to him. He has some smart scenes with his son where we start to believe just how difficult it is to resist groupies. He creates empathy for his character. A lesser movie wouldn’t have.

4. Tigerland (2000)

This is the best Joel Schumacher movie. Colin Farrell, in a star-making performance, plays Bozz, a reluctant leader who knows how to get frightened soldiers discharged from a military training facility. He gets away with a lot of insubordinate behaviour simply because he’s a talented soldier and his superiors know a born leader when they see one. Set in 1971, during the Vietnam conflict, the movie lays the groundwork for the effective training exercises at the end which are held in a jungle-like setting called Tigerland. With one psycho soldier (Shea Whigham) after him for turning the men against him, Bozz is torn between fleeing the facility and facing up to his responsibilities. Funny, brutal, real. If you were moved by Platoon, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

5. Almost Famous (2000)

Before Vanilla Sky, writer/director Cameron Crowe made this serio-comic valentine to his rock and roll adolescence. It is a wonderful film about a child prodigy who finds solace among the larger than life characters he writes about for Rolling Stone. Despite strong reviews, this one never found the audience it so richly deserved. Often hilarious, and extremely wise about the inner workings of the music business, Almost Famous is filled with solid performances, memorable lines and best of all, a heart of gold.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 26, 2006
1:58 p.m.
Published in: on November 26, 2006 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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