Sleepers on DVD
As August approaches and this summer of big scale bombast movies begins to dial down the hype machine, the desire to see smaller scale movies about real people begins to dominate my thoughts. It’s why I so look forward to my annual trek to the Toronto Film Festival in September. It is also why those occasional character driven movies like the fabulous Waitress and the very funny Knocked Up are so appreciated as a summer change of pace.
As a film critic, I like to think that I don’t let too many sleeper gems, small scale films that offer the simple pleasures of real characters and emotions, slip by unnoticed. However, if I have been guilty of the sin of omission, or of living in a town that isn’t exactly a hotbed of alternative cinema, Netflix bails me out.
I’ve found several gems in my recent Netflix envelopes including Aurora Borealis, The Dead Girl and Black Snake Moan. Sometimes I’ll get the notice that a film is coming, a selection I made months ago, and I’ll wonder, what movie is that?
Such was the case with Aurora Borealis (2006) a delightful “time to grow up” drama about a twenty-something semi-slacker (Joshua Jackson) who starts moving his life in the right direction when he decides to help his ailing grandfather (Donald Sutherland), and falls for a slightly older free spirit home care worker (Juliette Lewis). Also in the cast is Louise Fletcher as the grandmother. The performances are superb, the Minneapolis setting is refreshingly different, the script is engaging (by Brent Boyd, based on his play) and director James Burke puts it all together.
How did this movie fall so far below my radar? I took some comfort when I checked on Rotten Tomatoes and saw there were only 36 reviews for the film (as opposed to the usual 200 for a wide release).
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Film critics, especially critics that write for weekly publications, do not see every movie that comes out. I only see about 140 films a year. That might sound like a lot, but in 2006, 607 movies were released in the United States. I mention this because sometimes I make a wrong choice. I should have reviewed Black Snake Moan when it came out a few months back, based on the director (Hustle and Flow’s Craig Brewer) and the cast — Samuel L. Jackson and Christine Ricci. However, I allowed the plot summary to keep me away: a black blues musician chains up a white trash nymphomaniac in order to save her from herself. The movie has definitely got its freak on, but the story is more complex than expected. It is about two people who need redemption and find it by helping each other.
Other movies that I ordered recently and enjoyed include the low budget 10 Items or Less, starring Morgan Freeman as an actor not nearly as famous as Morgan Freeman who spends an interesting day in East L.A. with a grocery clerk (Spanish star Paz Vega) in order to do research for a movie. It’s a film I missed seeing at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Cape of Good Hope is a sweet little drama about a South African woman who runs an animal shelter, confronting racial tensions and her own relationship problems. The Dead Girl (Brittany Murphy, Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Piper Laurie, Mary Beth Hurt) is an intriguing indie flick that presents a series of vignettes that are all connected to the body of the title. This Spirit Award-nominated mystery is directed by Karen Moncrieff. Look Both Ways is a great Australian film that I praised as my favorite flick at the 2005 Toronto Film Fest. It holds up very well. Double Dare is a cool documentary about female stuntwomen, in particular Zoë Bell. I rented this because I thought she was awesome in Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, Death Proof.