Saturday, July 15, 2006

Underrated Movies

I must admit that this week I had some concerns about A Shroud of Thoughts becoming The Death Blog, given the number of celebrities who died (June Allyson, Syd Barrett, Barnard Hughes, and Red Buttons). I must also admit that today is the anniversary of an encounter four years ago which would change both my life and myself forever. Given that the encounter did not ultimatley lead to what I longed for, today is somewhat bittersweet for me.

I then thought that today I would address a happy topic, namely movies that I consider to be underrated. These are films that either did not do well at the box office, were not well received by critics, or both. Regardless, these are films that many of my friends and myself (who I believe have fairly good tastes in movies) have always appreciated. So without further ado, here is a short list of movies I think have been underrated.

Rock & Rule (1983): This animated feature from Canadian company Nelvana was barely released in 1983. It only made around $8000 before disappearing to the netherworld of American premium cable channels and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Fortunately, those who caught it on television in the Eighties and saw Rock & Rule at various art houses over the years, remembered it. And Rock & Rule is worth remembering. It is an animated, musical fantasy set in an apocalyptic future, which also happens to feature some of the best work by Cheap Trick and Blondie (including a duet between Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Blondie's Deborah Harry). The cult following Rock & Rule drew over the years permitted it a DVD release. I can only hope that this gives it the large and appreciative audience it so rightly deserves.

The Name of the Rose (1986): This film, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, was based on the inernational bestseller by Umberto Eco of the same name. Like the novel, it centres on a noncomformitst, Franciscan monk and his apprentice who investigate a series of mysterious deaths in a remote abbey. When The Name of the Rose was first released, it received some very negative reviews from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. And while it did well in Europe, it bombed at the box office here in the United States. Regardless, The Name of the Rose is a truly good movie. Like the novel, it combines such diverse genres as mystery, thrillers, and medieval period pieces in a plot that explores the variety of religious belief in Europe of the Middle Ages. While not as challenging as the novel (which also explores the importance of books, language, philosophy, and other subjects in 600 pages), it is a challenging movie nonetheless. I rather suspect that this is the reason that many critics initally gave the movie poor reviews--they just did not know what to make of the film. And while The Name of the Rose did not do well in its first run in the United States, it has since become a cult film with a fairly large following. Fortunately, there are many who realise just how good the film is.

The Perfect Storm (2000): Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, The Perfect Storm was based on a true story. In October 1991 the fishing vessel Andrea Gail set sail on its final voyage from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Little did the men of the Andrea Gail know that they were sailing into what would come to be called "the Perfect Storm" or "the Halloween Storm," a Western Atlantic storm more intese than any before or since. Based on the book by Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm sometimes got the facts wrong, but it made up for it with a tale of bravery in the face of danger. The Perfect Storm is no mere disaster movie, owing more to such tales of man versus nature as London and Hemingway once wrote. Sadly, while it did well at the box office, it received only lukewarm reviews from critics and was overlooked at the Oscars.

Down With Love (2003): Down With Love received fairly good reviews. Unfotunately, released in July 2003, it did not fare well at the box office against that summer's blockbusters. I find this sad, as Down With Love is a truly unique movie. It is a 21st century homage to the sort of sex comedies that Rock Hudson and Doris Day once made. As such it captures both the era and the spirit of those films quite well. Indeed, if it was not for a few 21st century innuendos that are a bit too much on the head, one could almost convince himself or herself that it was made in 1963. And while many recent romantic comedies seem to have been made for women alone, like the Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies, Down With a Love is a movie both sexes can enjoy. In fact, it is one of the most romantic movies of recent years (Ewan McGregor's speech at the end is priceless). While it did not do well on its initial release, Down With Love has fortunately earned the cult following it deserves.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004): Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has a place in film history as the first movie to place live actors in a computer generated world. This in itself is remarkable, especially considering Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow features some truly amazing visuals. Sadly, it recieved mixed reviews (some critics, such as Roger Ebert, loved it, others did not) and bombed at the box office. What so many missed is that it was not only a technological wonder, but a damn good movie. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is deft blend of influences from those Thirties flyboy comic strips (think Smilin' Jack), pulp magazines, the Fleischer Superman cartoons, Golden Age comic books, and Thirties screwball comedies. Out of these diverse elements came a truly original story with some great action sequences and some great exchanges between leads leads Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. I rather suspect that if it is not already a cult film,, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow will become one rather soon.

I have always found it hard to understand why these films either failed at the box office, failed to receive critical acclaim, or both. In some instances I think it could have been because audiences and critics and sometimes both did not quite no what to make of them. Rock & Rule, The Name of the Rose, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are what I call genre melange--works which combine various genres together. Sometimes audiences (and often critics as well) are charmed by genre melange, as in the case of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. In other cases, such as many of the films here, I think the audiences and critics were just confused. In the case of Down With Love, I think it was a film in a genre which many viewers hadn't seen in a while and others had not seen at all. As a result, many probably did not know quite what to make of it. Regardless, I think all of these films deserve more acclaim than they have gotten.

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