Have You Ever Seen...
Miller's Crossing (1990)
First time viewing for me on this one and it's now one of my favorite films. If you're already a Coen Bros fan then chances are you've already seen this, but on the chance that you haven't and you like noir films and dark humor then bump this one up on in your queue.
Besides a fantastic cast and a strong sense of style, the cinematography is incredibly sharp and every element of the film comes together to form a really engrossing experience.
Some quick highlights:
- Albert Finney's character of Irish mob boss O'Bannon plays as affable at first, and then there's a great scene where he murders a bunch of hitmen and just turns into the hardest mofo at the drop of a hat.
- There's a consistent and funny play on just how useless and corrupt the police and local government truly are as they kowtow to whichever mob boss is in charge at the time.
- This is an early film for Marcia Gay Harden, whose been in plenty of great projects but my mind always goes to the evil Mrs. Carmody from the Mist.
If you enjoy crime tales with a great sense of flow and a lot of twists and turns as characters manipulate the sides then do yourself a favor and check this out. It's clever, well scripted, and just stands out as a great piece of cinema.
The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
Another first time for me, and it was pretty decent which makes the 10% critic review on Rotten Tomatoes kinda odd to me. The fan rating of 47% is more generous, but I'm guessing the slower pacing and the fact that there's no real dialogue as the characters use a form of sign language to communicate kept the rating down among viewers. Still, it has nice cinematography and you get a good sense of the effort put in on all levels of the production.
It's a simplistic plot that follows an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl who gets adopted by a wandering tribe of Neanderthals looking for a new home. You follow her life as she's generally shunned by most of the clan but finds some acceptance eventually while dealing with the abuse of the future tribe leader. There's a healthy amount of mysticism and clan politics as Daryl Hannah has to hide her intelligence/skills as clan taboos prohibit women from hunting and the such. There's basically a bunch of back and forth as they hate her then accept her then hate her again then are ok-ish with her and then she's like screw it, I'm outta here.
Now, let's talk about Bart the Bear.
One of the reasons I did get a lot of enjoyment from this film is that it lead me down a fun path of learning about one of its stars. At some point in the latter half of the story there's a gathering of Neanderthal clans and they fight a bear to the death. While I was watching that scene I was pretty impressed with that bear, especially as he seemed really gentle in his play fighting. So I looked him up and dang, that was one prolific animal actor. I didn't realize he was the same bear who got shot in the butt in the Great Outdoors, and the one who killed Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. As a fun aside, Anthony Hopkins loved that bear. One of his trainers noted that,
"Tony Hopkins was absolutely brilliant with Bart...He acknowledged and respected him like a fellow actor. He would spend hours just looking at Bart and admiring him. He did so many of his own scenes with Bart."
I truly love that Hopkins just spent hours staring at a bear and appreciating the natural aesthetic beauty of bear.
One last note on Bart, his filmography is amazing because it reads something like Bear, Bear, Cave Bear, Bald Headed Bear, Bear, Bear, Bear, Bear, Bear, Walking Thunder, Bear, Bear.
So yeah, come for the Neanderthals, but stay for the Bart.
El Norte (1983)
We'll end this batch on a soul crushing note, because hey why not. I had put off watching this for the longest time because I know it would be a sad film to work through, but it's also really beautiful and amazing.
The story follows two indigenous siblings who flee Guatemala due to the persecution and ethnic cleansing that took place during the Guatemalan Civil War. Divided into three chapters, the story begins in painting the backdrop of the struggle of the Xuncax family as the father of the siblings is murdered by government troops while their mother is disappeared along with most of their village. Hoping to find a better life they flee to the north in the hopes of getting to America. Chapter two follows their journey through Mexico as they struggle to make their way to the border and deal with different coyotes, while chapter three chronicles their attempt to live in America.
Every aspect of their life journey is terrible as the film spotlights the different levels of poverty, bigotry, and persecution that they witness and experience on their journey. It's a beautiful and gut wrenching examination of hope and despair, with subtle touches of mystical realism and spirituality that enhance the characters and tone of the film. The film is also gorgeously shot and the filming compliments the overall atmosphere of the story perfectly.
A very beautiful film and well worth your time for the educational aspect as well. Just keep in mind the soul crushing element and brace yourself for an emotional tale.