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.

 

 

The Good Neighbor (2016)

Counter to its title, each main character is anything but courteous. High schooler, Ethan enlists the help of his techie classmate, Sean to prank their reclusive, cranky old neighbor by staging a haunting that will be secretly filmed for a school project. Initially, Sean agrees to Ethan’s plan to watch their neighbor’s reactions to occurrences (e.g. slamming screen door), which they control remotely. To both the pranksters’ disappointment, the response is minimal. As the incidences intensify, it becomes clear that Ethan has a deep emotional investment in psychologically torturing the old man. A falling out between the two prompts Sean to demand his equipment back but he’s essentially blackmailed into continuing with the experiment since it was all purchased on his credit card. When Ethan breaks in to adjust a camera toppled by the old man’s cat, he experiences his own unexplainable occurrence.

Black Snake Moan (2006)

The epitome of “difficult to describe” and “impossible to classify,” this story has a lot going on. The initial marketing—especially the incongruous movie poster—was ticket bait for those looking for frenetically salacious and lewd content; anyone with a sense of decency avoided it in disgust.

Quality acting helps ground potentially off-the-rails characters as the story deliberately shows them at their worst to establish the misunderstood subversive behaviors, for which they are publicly ostracized. A solider with recurring panic attacks returns home to discover his girlfriend is missing. Meanwhile, she gets dumped out of a pickup truck, battered and in her underwear, along the side of the road. A hot-headed recluse drags her to his home where she wakes up chained to the radiator. Madness, right? That’s the point. Though everyone seems crazy at the outset, the beauty of this story is the bonds they forge along their journey toward healing despite complex struggles.

Normally, I wouldn’t give nearly so much of the plot away but in this case it’s the only way to justify seeing past such a depraved opening. As it turns out, the young woman was abused as a child; as with most victims, she feels a combination of guilt and confusion over her body’s response. So when she grows up and develops romantic feelings—even for guy who genuinely cares about her—she’s confused about how to give and receive affection, thus trapped in a vicious cycle of promiscuity. The antisocial loner, who initially holds her prisoner for her own safety, turns out to be a religious Blues musician who struggles with alcohol abuse following a contentious divorce. Heartbreak has left him closed off to the world.

As they compare the vices that serve to distract them from haunting memories, the two strike up a friendship that functions more like a father showing his wayward daughter some tough love, which includes having the local preacher over for lunch to hear his two cents:

“Ima tell you something and it’s just gonna be between you and me. I think folks carry on about Heaven too much, like it’s some kind of all-you-eat buffet up in the clouds and folks just do as they told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. There’s sinning in my heart, there’s evil in the world. But when I got no one, I talk to God. I ask for strength, I ask for forgiveness; not peace at the end of my days when I got no more life to live, or no more good to do, but today, right now… what’s your Heaven?”

Smoke Signals (1998)

Based on the autobiographical writings of author, Sherman Alexie, this film is the first of its kind: was written, directed and co-produced by Native American Indians. True to the spirit of Native culture, a road trip through White country by two Indians proves to be a tender blend of humor and pathos.  As only a true Native can, both the premise and the execution of the story embody what it means to be Indian in Modern America.

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

As a preemptive strike against seeing another round of forehead vein-throbbing performances from a circle of actors with a knack for intensity, I deliberately ignored this movie at the theater. Much to my chagrin, when I watched it out of desperation for something new and available, I found myself moved by the struggle of grief and the realization that it hits everyone differently, often creating tragic separation from the very people, who should be drawn closer by it. The formidable ensemble is in capable hands, which keeps them under the reign of the story at hand. Somber, thoughtful and engaging till the end.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

People handle internal feelings in different ways. Children, for example, often create imaginary friends. But what happens when an adult latches on to an inanimate object, which is the only thing that can keep him from becoming a recluse? Furthermore, what happens when his eccentric hobby becomes impossible to hide? No one can agree on how to treat a social pariah; reactions vary from disgust—outrage at challenging accepted convention—to patronizing indulgence—fear of confrontation.

This young man’s transformation finally occurs when he feels the safety of a surrounding community, who will love him through an intense period of inner turmoil. When the strong desire to be right clashes with the strong desire to fit in, the most vulnerable becomes collateral damage. However, everyone benefits when they redirect their efforts towards patience and sympathy for someone, who’s trying to work through past trauma and figure out how to grow up.

Calendar Girls (2003)

This frolicking romp from grief to healing is based on a true story about the Women’s Institute, who hosts seminars and competitions for techniques baking, knitting, gardening, etc. for the ladies in a small British town. When one of their own loses her husband to cancer, all the flowers and cross stitch in the world can’t beautify the grieving process. A friend and fellow W.I. member takes inspiration from firemen’s fundraising calendars and enlists others to help create a calendar that will raise money towards remodeling the dilapidated waiting room in the hospital’s cancer ward. It takes convincing but by adding a subtle tribute to their friend’s late husband in the form of a sunflower in each month’s photo, the ladies soon revel in the thrill of their confidential subversive project. The shock value that offends some and delights others ends up sending them to America to appear on The Tonight Show to be interviewed by host, Jay Leno.