By Greg Price
Watched some movies these last couple of weeks and it reminded me of a piece I used to do back in the day for the Taber Times.
Before video rental places had gone the way of the dinosaur, I would do a review of a movie that was a bit off the beaten path.
I figured everyone knows about the blockbusters, but what if you went to the DVD rental store and all the copies of those movies were already rented out? There’s still back ups you can rent which are still great movies.
So here is a list of movies you may not know of that may fill the hours of some lazy summer days to enjoy escaping from the heat in an air-conditioned house for a couple of hours.
SPY: When your opening weekend nets you $30 million, maybe this movie isn’t exactly under the radar. But when you are in a field of blow-em’-up, summer blockbusters in 2015, sometimes a good old-fashioned comedy can get lost in the crowd.
Spy is the movie vehicle that proves lead actress Melissa McCarthy can carry a movie herself, although she has plenty of solid offerings in St. Vincent, Bridesmaids and Identity Thief as well.
The story is of a desk-bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover after the identity of CIA field agents have been comprised with an arms dealer.
I do not think five minutes passed at any point of the movie where I didn’t get a big belly laugh. Witty dialogue that doesn’t devolve to sight and bodily-function gags, the comedic timing, expressions and body language McCarthy possesses keep the laughs rolling along with nary a cringe-worthy, laboured joke to be had.
With Jude Law, Rose Byrne and Jason Statham in tow as solid support players, it dares to veer into the slapstick spy comedy genre where many offerings have failed before, only to succeed spectacularly. It succeeds by playing more the person coming out of their shell angle rather than succeeding despite incompetence that other slapstick-spy offerings fall victim to, to deliver laughs.
BAD WORDS: It failed at the box office in 2013, grossing only two-thirds what it cost to make, but that should not stop anyone from watching this solid flick. Justin Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words features Guy Trilby (Bateman), a 40-year-old man with a vendetta, finding a loophole in the regulations and participates in the largest spelling bee in the USA against competitors 30 years his junior at the Golden Quill.
Leaving no person uninsulted in his wake with hilarious results, as he continues to climb the Golden Quill ranks, his cantankerous self seems to leave one spelling bee contestant unfazed in Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), as the youngster tries to befriend him.
Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) plays the journalist that follows him around, documenting as he enrages parents of proud spelling bee contestants and organizers of the Golden Quill alike.
As the movie ties together, the reason for Trilby’s vindictive quest is reveled, and there is just enough witty barbs and heart to go around to make a very enjoyable watch.
Throw in a top-end soundtrack featuring Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys with offerings not found on Greatest Hits albums, and you have a solid listen as well.
BEAUTIFUL GIRLS: We are going way back to my college years (1996) for this one, but it is simply a movie I never tire of watching.
With a heavyweight cast at the time in Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Timothy Hutton, Rosie O’Donnell, Natalie Portman, Michael Rapaport, Mira Sorvino and Uma Thurman, it tells the story of New York jazz pianist Willie Conway (Hutton) who is going back to his 10-year high school reunion in small-town America.
At a crossroads of whether to continue his piano playing which is barely making a living and marrying his long-time girlfriend, Conway discovers his high school buddies have some of their own issues to work through, including the commitment-phobic Paul Kirkwood (Rapaport) and Tommy ‘Birdman’ Rowland who is still very much living in his high school days.
Central scenes between Conway and Marty (a very-young Natalie Portman) could have been extremely creepy given a weaker script and direction, but instead explores the mental attraction between the two characters who are searching for the deeper meaning in their lives.
Throw in Conway’s discussions about love with Andrea (Uma Thurman) and this ensemble piece has plenty of philosophical discussions to go around in a superb dialogue movie where none of the characters feel unfinished. It is another movie with a great soundtrack of songs, some of which you have likely never heard before.
“We all want something beautiful” pines family man Michael ‘Mo’ Morris (Noah Emmerich). This is a beauty of a movie indeed.
AWAY WE GO (2009): You know you have a winner when you really enjoy a movie which features two actors you were not particularly fond of in their previous work.
I was never the biggest fan of The Office with John Krasinski as a main lead in the television series and Maya Rudolph who I thought was one of the weaker comedians in Saturday Night Live at the time.
But in Away We Go, they simply just work. Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are a couple who are expecting their first child and travel around the USA and Canada to find the perfect place to raise their child.
Now, well into their 30s, they fear their abilities to be good parents given their meagre lifestyles, but they soon find out they are not as screwed up as they think they are as they visit family and friends.
Perhaps viewing Burt as a man I would be as a father given his personality, maybe this is what partially drew me to the film.
But given the movie’s sweetness firmly entrenched in all the eccentric characters that feature the serious situations (repeated miscarriages, separation) mixed in with new-wave hippies, drunken mothers etc., and you feel fully satisfied when Burt and Verona find their final destination to raise a family. Nothing Hollywood in its production with immensely relatable characters, Away We Go features a couple many secretly want to be.
WITH HONORS: Another movie from my young-adult years (1994), With Honors tells the story of rigid Harvard student Montgomery ‘Monty’ Kessler (Brendan Fraser).
Convinced his thesis will have him graduate with honours, he finds himself at the mercy of a homeless man’s demands (Joe Pesci) when he holds his thesis hostage, the only paper copy he has, having lost the original on his hard drive on his computer.
Slowly learning that greatness does not come simply from one’s pedigree, Kessler and the rest of his university roommates slowly begin to adopt the homeless Simon Wilder as one of their own.
There is the womanizing campus radio DJ Everett Calloway (Patrick Dempsey), the uptight Jeffrey Hawks (Josh Hamilton) and Kessler’s burgeoning love interest, Courtney Blumenthal (Moira Kelly).
Everyone has a story and unraveling Pesci’s character who at first is looked at with disdain, eventually tugs at the heart strings with its sad ending.
You see the interaction between Pesci’s character Wilder and pompous Professor Pitkannan (Gore Vidal) in one memorable scene discussing the power of the Constitution, and you swear it’s a scene that is discussed in many film theatre classes and coffee houses.
MINDHUNTERS (2004): I admit it, out of all this list of movies, this is my biggest guilty pleasure that may be cringe-worthy for some.
Put your thinking caps to the side and just grab some popcorn. Mindhunters involves trainees in the FBI’s psychological profiling program. Thinking they are on a training mission on a remote island, the training goes horribly wrong and the seven young agents quickly discover one of them is a serial killer bent on slaying the others.
Given you could probably drive a semi through some of the plot holes, I still was taken in by the elaborate traps that were set by the serial killer and the paranoia that built within the ranks of the FBI agents as one after another is killed off. Simply a popcorn movie through and through, it still has a uniqueness to it I found appealing as I enjoyed the roller coaster ride, waiting for how creative the next death scene would be as I guessed to see if I was right on who the killer was.