Tag Archives: Buried Cinema

Buried Cinema, Artifact #005: The Missing

By Nathanael Griffis

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

(MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

What if I told you Ron Howard was making a movie. “Okay, sure, what kind of movie?” A Western. “Awesome. Who’s in it?” Only Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, and Val Kilmer. “What’s it about?” Jones and Blanchett chase down an Apache Brujo, who’s like a witch doctor on steroids, after he kidnaps Blanchett’s daughter. “Okay, that sounds pretty good. I’m in.”

Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones would kick my ass in a fight.

Apparently not. For some reason, no one saw this movie. The Missing came out in 2003, but if you ask around about it now, you’ll probably get a confused look and the question, “Ron Howard made a Western?” Yes he did, and it was quite good. Adapted from the novel The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson, The Missing was Howard’s first film after A Beautiful Mind, so it should have had the popularity of that movie going for it. Instead, it came and went.

The Missing handles spiritualism and supernatural elements better than any Western I’ve seen. Tommy Lee Jones plays Samuel Jones, who left his daughter Magdalena (Cate Blanchett) when she was a child to go native. The movie opens with Jones returning to a grown Magdalena, now a mother of two. When Magdalena’s oldest daughter Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by the Brujo (played with a balance of brooding and a frightening apathy for the horrific by Eric Schweig), Maggie has to turn to her father track down the Apache. What ensues is a disturbing look at racism, spiritualism, religion, family, and human trafficking in 19th-century New Mexico.

Do NOT take a bad picture of this man. Don't ask why. Just don't do it.

If Dances with Wolves had been a horror film, Costner might have made something akin to The Missing. It has some of the most horrific scenes I’ve seen in a Western. Let me put it to you this way: the description below the R-rating that says “violence” is a huge understatement. (On a side note, this makes me really excited for what Ron Howard will do with The Dark Tower.) I’m still not sure what happened to Aaron Eckhart’s character, but I am sure I don’t want to know. Howard perfectly mixes showing the gore and pulling the camera away, so that the violence has just the right effect. The combined effects of the Brujo’s unpredictable and creative penchant for violence is beyond terrifying (especially in a scene in which he melts a photographer’s eyes out), and the starkly shot remains of his victims will leave you squeamish after the film. Perhaps this is why people have a hard time swallowing the movie.

It’s worth watching though. I’ve seen a few films that try to mix Native American spiritualism with the classic Western and fail. (See Renegade starring Vincent Cassel–or don’t.) The Missing, though, manages to balance the supernatural elements with a startling grace and effectiveness. I give credit to the performances and to Ken Kaufman’s script in this case. Tommy Lee Jones gives Sam, an unlikeable father figure, a level of depth that has to be hinted at in the tone of his voice and in his physical presence, because the character is too prideful to allow the audience to see how deep his empathy runs. Likewise, Magdalena has her father’s stubbornness and never fully overcomes her racism against Indians, but Cate Blanchett’s performance is such an engaging blend of vulnerability and strength that we can sympathize. There is simply no choice: the viewer must watch as the two characters grow but never fully reunite.

If they'd bought a box of Thin Mints, none of this would have happened.

The Missing is almost a movie of redemption, and the fact that it never reaches that level is a great strength of the film. There are some things in life (like, as the movie points out, abandoning you child), that would take more than a weekend to fix and forgive. The film understands this, and Sam, even as he longs to be close to his daughter, does as well. There is beauty in his struggle with resigning himself to the inability to be redeemed or the slim chance he can make things right.

Every character in The Missing has depth, even in the minor roles. Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart provide strong support. The same is true of Evan Rachel Wood; and watch out for Jenna Boyd, who plays Maggie’s younger daughter, Dot– she should be old enough to start getting recognition, and she deserves it for this role.

The Missing is not your typical Western. The end is haunting and leaves you thinking. It’s hard to classify, and hard to watch at times, but if you love Westerns, this is a must-see that shouldn’t be forgotten.

(The Missing at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338188)

–Nathanael Griffis

Buried Cinema, Artifacts #002-004: Another side of Milla Jovovich

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Milla Jovovich is generally known as a go-to heroine for B-grade sci-fi action flicks, and most notably for her roles as Alice in all four Resident Evil movies and as the adorable, mysterious Leeloo in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. As such, she is often not given credit for her acting skills (despite often being the only thing making certain scenes in these movies watchable).

"Lee-loo dal-las mul-ti-pass"

What most people don’t seem to realize is that Milla has a healthy indie career when she’s not fighting zombies, vampires, and mutants. I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend a few of her best films.

A Perfect Getaway (2009) is the first non-sci-fi film directed by David Twohy (pronounced tooey), who also directed the underrated Pitch Black a decade ago. Getaway is Twohy’s pop culture-savvy twist on the serial killer genre that deals more in psychological suspense than violence and gore. The plot involves three young couples on holiday in Hawaii who hear news that the perpetrators of a recent double-murder may be in the vicinity of the isolated forest trail they’re hiking, but the less you know about the plot before viewing, the better. Milla stars alongside a talented cast that includes Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, and Chris Hemsworth.

Dummy (2002) stars Adrien Brody as Steven, a 30-something man-child who decides to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a ventriloquist. Milla plays Fangora, Steven’s free-spirited, foul-mouthed best friend. When Steven develops a crush on his unemployment counselor Lorena (the wonderful Vera Farmiga), Fangora’s sociopathic relationship advice is, shall we say, counter-productive. Written and directed by Greg Pritikin, and co-starring Illeana Douglas, Jessica Walters, Ron Leibman, and Jared Harris (who also co-starred with Milla in Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Dummy is a funny, off-kilter romantic comedy that should be seen by more people, especially those looking for something better than the usual Hollywood rom-com fare.

The Claim (2000) is about a man named Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), who owns a town named Kingdom Come–a town he built after trading his wife and daughter for a gold claim. Now, his town is in danger of obsolescence by a railroad survey crew led by Wes Bentley, and his own past comes back to haunt him when Nastassja Kinski and Sarah Polley appear in town. Milla plays Dillon’s girlfriend, the madame of a brothel, who becomes disillusioned with her privileged life when she begins to learn about Dillon’s past and is faced with his style of handling present circumstances. The Claim is a bleak, but affecting, revisionist Western from director Michael Winterbottom.

(While we’re on the subject, also check out hippie-Milla in Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused.)

Learn more about the featured films at the IMDb:

A Perfect Getaway: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0971209

Dummy: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0246592

The Claimhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218378

–Tom Kapr

Buried Cinema, Artifact #001: The Dream Team

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and the obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Michael Keaton made a welcome return to comedic form this year as the put-upon police captain who moonlights as a Bed, Bath & Beyond sales manager in Adam McCay’s hilarious but undercooked The Other Guys.

For the past decade or so, Keaton has been working largely under the radar in limited-release dramas or as Katie Holmes’s/Lindsay Lohan’s/that Gilmore girl’s dad in whatever crazy teenage-girl comedies those crazy Hollywood screenwriters have been coming up with lately. He’s also become a recurring vocal talent for Pixar, with little fanfare. (See Chick Hicks in Cars or Ken in Toy Story 3.)

During the 80′s, Keaton had made a name for himself as an adept comedic star in movies such as Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, and, one of my personal favorite quotables, Johnny Dangerously. He turned that persona on its head at the end of the decade when he donned the mantle of a decidedly darker-than-previously-seen Caped Crusader (at least, darker than was familiar to the general movie-going public) in Tim Burton’s Batman.

But only a couple months before Batman‘s release in 1989 (and, I suspect, overshadowed by that landmark film and its massive hype), Keaton appeared in a little comedy called The Dream Team.

Written by Jon Connolly & David Loucka and directed by Howard Zieff, The Dream Team is a thoroughly enjoyable character-driven comedy featuring brilliant, subtle physical humor and some of the most quotable lines ever. Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst play four psychiatric patients who meet for group therapy every week.

Billy Caufield (Keaton) has a temper and enjoys concocting elaborate lies. Jack McDermott (Boyle) is a former advertising executive with a Messiah complex and a tendency to disrobe in public. Albert Ianuzzi (Furst) is verbally shut off from the rest of the world, speaking only in baseball-announcer metaphor. And Henry Sikorsky (Lloyd) is an obsessive-compulsive under the delusion that he is his fellow patients’ doctor.

Wanna buy some Thin Mints? Samoas? Lemon Chalet Cremes? Dulce De Leches?

Their therapist, Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris), decides that a day trip to Yankee Stadium would do them all a world of good. While making a pit stop in an alley in New York City, Weitzman witnesses a crime and is beaten unconscious. The only witness is Albert, who doesn’t know how to tell the others what he saw. The four are left to their own devices in the big city, eventually learning of their doctor’s fate and getting embroiled in the perpetrators’ scheme.

It sounds contrived (and as a premise for a comedy, it is), but the plot actually unfolds rather naturally. The four protagonists are so fully engaged in their characters and so interesting to watch, and have such great chemistry with each other, that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous things get (and things do get a bit ridiculous). The performances keep it grounded. These four actors know how to get the maximum amount of situational comedy out of their characters without resorting to hammy antics or breaking character for the sake of the joke (something I’ve talked about in the podcast recently regarding Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys).

The supporting cast is, if not memorable, at least believable and capable. Prolific character actors Philip Bosco and James Remar play a couple of heavies, and Lorraine Bracco (of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame) plays Keaton’s character’s old girlfriend, Riley. She even manages to be sexy, an adjective I’ve never before applied to Lorraine Bracco.

The Dream Team‘s title may not be particularly germane to the plot (another possible factor in the film’s obscurity), but the tagline is great: “Four guys on a field trip to reality.” It’s a sadly forgotten little gem that more people should see, and I’d like to make a special mention and thanks to my brother Dan for introducing it to me.

(The Dream Team at the IMDb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0097235)

–Tom Kapr