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Archive for the 'Neglected Gems' Category

Neglected Gems – Advise & Consent

A political thriller set in the hallowed chambers of the US Senate, Otto Preminger’s excellent Advise & Consent has been largely ignored by the users of Criticker, despite having quite a few things to recommend it.

One of the subplots involves (spoiler) the secret homosexual affair of a sitting senator — a fairly taboo topic in 1962. And in order to make this film, which deals with the President’s attempt to get a largely unknown man (with a possibly shady past) installed as the Secretary of State, Preminger went up against the MPAA’s censorship board. He dealt with communist themes and cast stridently liberal actors, such as Burgess Meredith, who had been put on the infamous Hollywood Blacklist.

Plus, Advise & Consent features the film debut of Betty White, who plays a mouthy grandma that makes shockingly off-color jokes. Turns out that’s all she could ever do. No actually, she plays the well-mannered, young Senator from Kansas. Refreshing to see a different side of her:

Well-told, engaging political dramas are hard to come by, and this one is definitely worth a look. I’m not sure how it’s sneaked under the radar for so long!

Neglected Gems: Unknown Pleasures

In 2002, filmmaker Jia Zhangke released his third feature film to universal acclaim. Unknown Pleasures would barely lose the Palme d’Or to Polanksi’s The Pianist, but still won accolades from critics and ended on a few top 10 lists.

Set in the industrial Chinese city of Datong, the plot follows a trio of disillusioned adolescents who are part of the “Birth Control Generation” — that first generation of Chinese youth who are the product of the government’s one child policy. As such, loneliness and detachment from reality are dominant themes. The kids, Bin Bin, Xiao Ji and Qiao Qiao, fall in love, discuss American culture and eventually fall into a bit of crime.

Like too many films out of Asia, Unknown Pleasures has remained almost completely disregarded by Western audiences. Slow character development and long stretches where not much happens at all… such movies tend to work on the festival circuit but not with the casual fan. But that doesn’t excuse the users of Criticker! This is a hauntingly beautiful film, which captures important human moments during China’s reawakening. Seek it out.

Neglected Gems: Lila Says

In 2004, a wonderful movie about sexual awakening came out of France. Lila Says tells the story of Chimo, a teenager in an Arabic neighborhood of Marseilles who falls in love with Lila, a new girl on the block. Lila plays seductive, entrancing Chimo with peeks up her skirt and sordid tales of past sexual conquests, but their fledgling affair remains innocent… until a more aggressive friend of Chimo’s falls in love with Lila, too.

Adapted from an anonymous French novella that caused a controversy in the country, the plot sounds straightforward, but Lila Says offers a lot of surprises, including interesting camera work by writer-director Ziad Doueiri in his second outing. The film picked up a handful of awards, and has been highly rated at Criticker by nearly everyone who’s seen it.

But that’s not nearly enough people! Summer is just beginning, and that’s the perfect time to watch a great, under-appreciated film about a summertime romance.

Available at Amazon: Lila Says

Neglected Gems: My Flesh and Blood

A disproportionate percentage of our Neglected Gems are documentaries, which makes sense. There are a ton of great ones out there, and most are terribly neglected. If it wasn’t directed by Michael Moore, it probably didn’t get a theatrical release, and you’ll never see a thought-provoking or (god forbid) controversial documentary on the main US networks. The people who don’t actively seek out award-winning documentaries are simply never exposed to them.

It’s a shame! It’s a terrible shame that almost no one has seen the incredibly uplifting film My Flesh and Blood. Without a trace of sentimentality, director Jonathon Karsh documents a year in the life of the Tom family. Susan Tom has adopted 11 special-needs children, and the film attempts to capture the joy, pain and frustration which make up each of their days.

What makes My Flesh and Blood so wonderful is the honesty with which the Tom family’s story is told. Karsh doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of their lives, and this humanizes and endears them to us. Although their’s is a strange situation, and Susan’s decision to adopt so many difficult kids might not be “normal”, the director never engages in judgment. Susan Tom is just human, as imperfect as the rest of us. But the trueness and intensity with which she loves her children is undeniable. And incredibly moving.

Check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Available at Amazon: My Flesh and Blood

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Neglected Gems: L’Innocente

Most well-known for his period epic The Leopard from 1963, Luchino Visconti is also responsible for one of Criticker’s Neglected Gems — L’Innocente. Another drama about human relationships, L’Innocente hit screens in 1976, the same year Visconti would die in Rome of a stroke.

Like The Leopard, this movie takes place in the world of the 19th century Italian aristocracy. It’s based on the 1892 novel by Gabriele D’Annunzio, and is mainly a drama of infidelity. Wealthy Tullio Hermil has grown weary of his lucrative, boring life and lovely, boring wife, and embarks on an affair with a seductive, widowed Countess. When he eventually runs into trouble with her and another of her suitors, he returns to his wife… though it might be too late.

The sets and photography in this film are nearly as stunning as in The Leopard, but the true star is the film’s music. The score, made up of classical works from composers such as Mozart and Liszt, is perfectly intertwined into the film, which at times feels almost like an opera. It’s a perfect end to Visconti’s career, and a fitting farewell. Not too many people at Criticker have ranked this forgotten masterpiece, so we encourage you to seek it out!

Buy it here!

Neglected Gems: Prodigal Son

Buy it here

Legendary kung fu superstar Sammo Hung was nominated for Best Director in the 1983 Hong Kong Film Awards for his comedic action flick The Prodigal Son, which also nabbed a Best Picture nomination. The film won the award for Best Action Choreography, and too few users of Criticker have seen why… which is why The Prodigal Son is our latest neglected gem.

The titular character is Leung Jan, played by the charismatic Yuen Biao, the pampered son of a wealthy family. A student of kung fu, he believes himself to be the world’s greatest fighter, and has an unbeaten streak of over 300 fights to back the claim up. But Leung isn’t aware that his father has been bribing his opponents to lose. In fact, he’s a terrible fighter, and could be easily defeated by even the most amateur of enemies.

With an engaging story, superb comic elements and, naturally, ridiculous kung fu, The Prodigal Son has been hailed as one of Sammo Hung’s best efforts, along with Magnificent Butcher. Pretty much required viewing for fans of the genre… if you’re unconvinced, check out the trailer:

Straight from 1001 Arabian Nights

Neglected Gems: Rebels of the Neon God

From 1992, Tsai Ming-liang‘s first feature, Rebels of the Neon God, is the latest entry in our collection of Neglected Gems — films which very few people have ranked, but which have gathered nearly unanimous praise.

The plot concerns youth in the streets of Taipei. Hsiao Kang is the troubled son of a taxi driver who has just quit school. He encounters two petty criminals during a minor, meaningless act of violence, and decides to follow them in pursuit of justice. The film winds its way around the streets, arcades and neon lights of Taipei, in a study of youth, disaffection and the alienating effects of urban life.

His first feature won Tsai Ming-liang a lot of attention, and he would go on to become one of Taiwan’s most influential and famous directors. More well known for later films like Goodbye Dragon Inn and What Time Is it There?, Ming-liang has racked up a dizzying array of awards, from Cannes to Berlin to Venice. All beautifully shot, and usually recycling the same themes and actors (particularly Lee Kang-sheng), his movies consistently win the love of both critics and the public.

For further reading on Rebels of the Neon God, we’ll refer you to articles at Reverse Shot and Strictly Film School.

Rebels of the Neon God @ Amazon