Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TUESDAY BONUS: Alternate Contenders (Part 2)

I promised you guys ten movies I’ve seen and enjoyed and which I’d recommend that others see (and hopefully enjoy) which you wouldn’t encounter in the pages of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I already got my discursive disclaimers out of the way in the post covering the first half of the list, so here come the back five:

6. Rollerball (1975)

You may or may not have noticed that my personal list of non-canonical movies had 200 entries, but I’ve been referring to it as 200+. Rollerball is the reason, because on separate occasions I willingly sat down to watch one version, then the other, and thus the (both) after the title. Make no mistake, the 21st-century remake of this flick was pretty dire. But that doesn’t mean the source material isn’t any good, hence I’m specifying the 1975 original. I watched this movie with some friends one night in high school and I was immediately taken with it. It’s one of those dystopian science-fiction movies that didn’t require a big budget because it simply extrapolates on current trends until it ends up in nightmarish territory. Some of Rollerball’s predictions look quaint now (they looked quaint in 1991, too) especially the “futuristic” fashions. But in terms of big concepts like celebrity culture, professional sports, corporate greed and mob mentalities, it’s still incredibly relevant.

7. The Secret of NIMH

I intended this alternates project to be more of a dialogue with the Master List, not an argument, but in this particular case I cannot for the life of me understand how this movie is not already in the books. It’s an animated children’s movie, but there are plenty of those on the list, mostly Disney films (obviously). The director of The Secret of NIMH, Don Bluth, was a Disney animator who broke away to form his own production studio, which I think was kind of a big deal historically in and of itself, just showing that the House of Mouse’s dominance in the arena could be challenged. How many times in your life have you heard “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail? (That, along with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, is one of the lullabies I’ve sung to all my kids when I get bored with Brahms.) How many sequels upon sequels to The Land Before Time have you seen in the kid-video sections of stores? Those are all Don Bluth joints, and The Secret of NIMH started it all. And it’s a fantastic movie, gorgeously rendered, action-packed (I came very close to including Justin the Rat in my childhood heroes dream team), based on a classic children’s novel, and maybe best of all the hero and main character is a mom. I’d love to share this movie with my kids, when they’re ready; as it stands now, between the fierce barn cat named Dragon, the terrifying Great Owl, the vicious in-fighting among the rats and the children-in-peril climax, if I tried to get the little guy to watch it he would be traumatized. But when he’s eight I bet he’ll love it.

8. Spider-Man 2

Finally, a superhero movie!!! And not only that, but a superhero sequel, which (The Dark Knight notwithstanding) is usually a rightly reviled, unfortunate byproduct of the Hollywood system. But in this case, it’s more of an Empire Strikes Back kind of situation. Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie is very good, and not a flick I would mind sitting down and re-watching at all. But it hews very close to some major milestones from the original comic books: Spidey’s origin and his final showdown with the Green Goblin (both cinematically compressed by necessity). Spider-Man 2 builds on the origin story and gets immeasurably better by exploring more themes and ideas that the first installment simply didn’t have time for. And the Doctor Octopus storyline isn’t so much a recreation of a specific run of issues from the comics, but a synthesized take on the character that makes sense for the movie. (And Alfred Molina is amazing as Otto Octavius, it goes without saying.) I remember getting goosebumps in the theater the first time I saw the trailer for Spider-Man 2 (in front of Return of the King, maybe?) and the movie itself did not disappoint. It’s really what everybody says they want in a blockbuster: big spectacle and thrills but also genuine emotion. It’s the spiritual predecessor of the current crop of exceptionally good Marvel movies like Iron Man and Captain America.

9. Starship Troopers

I’ve actually blogged about this before, although my focus that time was on the original Heinlein novel. But I have no shortage of love for the film it inspired! At this point we are veering strongly back into the dumb-movies-for-boys territory I've staked out previously. Still, there’s a ferociously sharp satire lurking beneath the late-90’s CGI effects and all the other shiny blockbuster trappings. Starship Troopers is simultaneously an action movie about interplanetary war, a statement movie about the politicization of war, and a wicked parody of pop culture’s glorification of war. So by my reckoning it’s a movie about movies, and should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award. (Except of course that it does not exactly put forth an unambiguous “movies are great, yay!” kind of message. All the more reason to see it, though.)

10. Team America: World Police

The 1001 List features some movies about puppets (Pinocchio) and movies featuring some sequences of puppetry (Being John Malkovich) and even movies with puppet characters acting alongside human actors (The Muppet Movie, The Empire Strikes Back). But how many movies on the master list are performed entirely by puppets? NONE. This is a terrible oversight given the existence of Team America: World Police, which is of course Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s infamous savaging of the opposing yet equally indefensible post-9/11 worldviews. And just like Rollerball, what was devastatingly insightful when the movie first came out is every bit as applicable today. I know that Parker and Stone’s sensibilities and sense of humor are not for everyone, but you have to admit their total output represents a tremendous pop culture phenomenon. South Park has been on tv just about my entire adult life, The Book of Mormon is an acclaimed Broadway smash, and in many ways even their flameouts and failures (Orgazmo, That’s My Bush!, Cannibal! The Musical) have been objects of fascination. Team America: World Police is furiously trenchant but it is also hilarious. I saw it in the theater with a bunch of my buddies and we absolutely howled through the entire thing. Probably that’s the best way to experience it, on the big screen with a group of rowdy 29-year-olds, and I understand that option may not be readily available. But any approximation you can manage would be worth the effort. Me, I might just have to bust out my DVD copy this Memorial Day weekend for a re-watch. You know, for the troops.

So that's my list! (Or sub-list, I guess!) Hopefully all of this has provided some food for thought. There's one more thing I'd like to touch on before abandoning the topic altogether, and that's which movie from my personal list of 200+ would be the absolute last film I'd want added to the 1001 List, the one I would actively warn people away from. But that will have to be a post for another day!

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