Dave (1993)

There have been brief periods when movies were made strictly for entertainment; you weren’t forced to choose between getting hit over the head with an agenda and indulging an experimental hobby project. Who better to give a chance to showcase their range than Kevin Kline?

A small-town professor moonlighting as a POTUS impersonator faces the mother of moral dilemmas when he agrees to stand in for the real—and comatose—Chief of Staff to avoid wide-spread panic. He later realizes how much power and influence everyone around him wields when he tries to avoid getting tangled in the strings of the political puppet masters, who hired him.

Cameos galore (primarily political figures) are the sprinkles atop a sturdy sundae of seasoned actors, who portray earnest characters out of their element finding their way to a heartwarming crescendo.

I am Elizabeth Smart (2017)

Intermittent narration by none other than the titular now-public figure herself both reminds us this is a real live person and assures us of her survival. Her story in her own words is empowering without reducing it to a sensationalized “ripped from the headlines” dramatization. After so much time in forced isolation Ms. Smart is voluntarily coming forward and speaking out. We owe it to her to listen.

UHF (1989)

Weird Al Yankovic wanted the title to be “The Vidiot” but the studio preferred “UHF,” despite being an obscure reference* to foreign audiences and a now obsolete reference to modern ones. Much of this movie’s slapdash humor was ad-libbed and many incidents and reactions were completely unscripted. Movie references abound, as do sight gags, most of which are without special effects, e.g. the “Wheel of (live) Fish.” With the likes of such a zany ensemble, expect the unexpected.

*Ultra High Frequency (TV broadcasting wavelength for cable, which has since been replaced by satellite)

Hard Candy (2005)

Like its title, this film isn’t something you’d likely choose but depending on who’s offering, might accept. Even if you aren’t prompted to buy it for yourself it was nevertheless enjoyable for the duration of its existence. In my case, it was chosen for me by a movie buff, of whose watch night I was a guest. They knew I never would’ve picked this out for myself. While I wouldn’t classify it as a story I’m interested in revisiting I don’t feel my time was wasted.

Unfortunately, what makes this film unique and interesting is unmarketable to general audiences, supervised or not: both the premise and subsequent plot explore a subject that’s taboo but shouldn’t be. That’s not to say everyone should see it; the exploitation of children is a delicate subject. This particular story happens to focus on cleverly devised revenge by way of poetic justice, which may be the only way to stir viewers to talk about it rather than unintentionally inciting their curiosity or accidentally making light of such a heinous offense. The result is riveting and effective.

Houseguest (1995)

It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone in their element, i.e. the shared enjoyment—even between strangers—of someone’s creativity channeled into a well-crafted project. The most complex humor seems effortless, which it may be in that moment, but is resultant of much practice. If a plot is strong enough to withstand a few deviations from its script, an actor with true improv ability will elevate the believability of his character by using natural true-to-life spontaneity to generate chemistry with his costars. This quick-on-their-feet cast collectively sets the essential stage that allows its lead to shine in this hilarious case of mistaken identity.

The Game (1997)

This movie is difficult to explain without spoilers. It’s the kind you just have to watch and see what unfolds. Answer each of the following questions with its corresponding number. The sum total of your answers will score your suitability.

 

TEST:

How cerebral are you?

Who cares/ wants to know?—4

I’m logical but still easy-going.—3

Currently overthinking my answer…—2

The question is too abstract.—1

 

When is it acceptable for a Psychological Thriller to be far-fetched or even implausible?

Whenever—4

Most of the Time—3

Seldom—2

Never—1

 

Must all improbable elements have an elaborately detailed background explanation?

No—4

Sometimes—3

Preferably—2

Absolutely—1

 

How does the thought of non-stop twists and turns right up to the end make you feel?

Intrigued—4

Optimistic —3

Skeptical—2

Anxious —1

 

Is a script equally dependent upon the actors and the writer(s) for execution of the plot?

Always—4

Generally—3

Rarely—2

Doesn’t Matter—1

 

TOTAL:

16-20 = What are you waiting for? Press play!

12-15 = Your satisfaction will depend on your attitude. Don’t overthink or analyze it; just enjoy.

1-11 = Skip it.

 

 

Bug (2002)

It isn’t hard to imagine this oddball getting passed over in favor of—well, quite frankly—anything, which is a shame because what it lacks in big-budget production value and marketing it more than makes up for in every other way. With a casting lineup seemingly plucked out of a big-budget movie, this clever Indi somehow borrows the familiar concept of interwoven destinies and refashions it in the most elaborately intricate way. If you’re looking for slaphappy comedy or outrageously dark humor there’s nothing to see here. Likewise, if you want wrought soliloquies, you’ll find this lacking in drama. However, what you will find is a surprisingly clever film jam-packed with fate, coincidence and irony.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Writer/ director, Baz Luhrmann, best known for his pinache, made his moviemaking debut with this one. And what a first impression! Let’s face it: regardless of medium, most first attempts are sincere but earnest and eschew anything flashy, which is understandable. Yet this gutsy storyteller somehow manages to fully develop his characters in a short amount of time. Though the movie is fast-paced it doesn’t feel the least bit rushed; Luhrmann knows exactly when and where to move the camera around his stylized set.

Though he gradually drifted into the realm of cinematic adaptations, this story is truly unique as a perfect synergy of any element you can name. I initially remembered it being a creative little daydream (i.e. a much classier version of Dirty Dancing) that someone more sentimental than I made me watch. Over the years it periodically surfaced in various conversations, referenced by everyone but cinephiles. I finally decided to rewatch it, assuming it would be a subtle precursor to Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which I loved but hadn’t connected as being from the same visionary. Though many movies with vaguely similar elements came to mind, I couldn’t think of a single one to which this compares. In my humble opinion, it remains his finest work.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Director, Tim Burton’s name alone should give away the tone of this movie, which is an adaptation of a young adult novel inspired by some odd vintage photos its author found at a flea market. It reminds me of Stephen King, not only because it’s a dark fantasy (Burton considers it “a scary Mary Poppins”); the author admits the movie version of his story is better. Screen writer, Jane Goldman tightened it with various character modifications/ amalgamations and plot elucidations.

Perhaps vaguely similar to the founder of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster or Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Miss Peregrine nurtures and protects a unique troop of children stuck in a time loop. They’re discovered by an unsuspecting young man on a research trip with his scientist, father. The beauty of this film is both in its minimal use of digital effects as well as in the infusion of subtle details, which are either foreshadowing, references to aforementioned history, or homages to Burton’s prior work, none of which distract from the plot or compromise its consistency.