In the Back of the Rack, on the Cheap
As the summer holidays and long weekends drape over the tent pole of the season, hopefully you'll find some extra hours to idle away, even after you've spent time in the sun, hanging with the clan, and doing the odd chore. If you happen across some of those golden, happy hours, and all the latest releases are already rented, here are some wonderful older movies that I bet you haven't seen:
The Frisco Kid
Back in the days of the Wild West, Gene Wilder stars as a Rabbi who is charged with leaving the Old World and setting up a congregation in the New World, in a place called San Francisco. He suspects it's somewhere on the East Coast, and figures he'll ask directions when he gets there. Imagine his surprise. Harrison Ford co-stars as a bandit who ends up accompanying the Rabbi on his voyage. This is the first time Ford got to show his comedy chops. This one's OK for mature children (say, 13), as there is some western-style violence and some language (the word "tits" is employed in a classic line, for instance). Totally charming and one of my grandma's favorite movies.
James Spader plays the role of a lifetime as a doctor who figures out that all the gristly killings happening lately are reenactments of the original Jack the Ripper murders. Spader has always had an amazing range, and he pulls all of it out here. I guarantee this movie will have at least TWO huge twists you will never see coming, so by all means don't research this one first or read anything (else) about it on the web. Due to the subject matter, this one's appropriate for the 16 and older crowd.
Two Irish brothers inadvertently shake up the power structure of the neighborhood's mob bosses, becoming local heroes. Like Spiderman (though they have no super powers other than a killer brogue), they reluctantly assume the mantle of their new responsibilities. But these guys are class A fuckups, so things often don't go as planned. This is a blend of clever dialogue, slapstick, mixed with a bit of Tarantino-esque hyperviolence. A highlight is Willem Dafoe's depiction of an FBI profiler who's tortured over his admiration for the "saints," and his drive to do his job. The depiction of his doing his profiling voodoo, reconstructing the acts of the "saints," is some of the most original and mesmerizing filmmaking I've seen. (Oh, and this is also one of the few times where a character's homosexuality didn't feel gratuitous or trendily politically correct.)
Bedazzled (Original Version)
Dudley Moore and Peter Cook wrote and starred in this comedy of a man (Moore) who makes a deal with the Devil (Cook) in exchange for 7 wishes. To cancel a wish, Dudley must blow a raspberry (it's simple: just put your tongue between your lips and blow), which just keeps getting funnier. There is one brief, almost hidden, hard-to-pick-out flash of breasts in a mirror, but other than that it is OK for kids, even if they don't follow half of the jokes. They will especially enjoy the animated segment where Moore becomes a fly who can't blow his raspberry because he's choking on bug spray. For me, one of the more charming aspects is the attention to detail on the Devil's spreading of mischief. As he's going about other business, he casually intercepts things on their way to stores, putting big scratches across record albums and cutting a random buttons off of dress shirts. Mystery solved, eh?
Dazed and Confused
For those of us who attended high school in the late 70s, this is our American Graffiti. Everything is completely dead-on correct here: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the music, the drugs, the lingo, you name it. I am completely transported every time I watch this gem. This is one of Richard Linklater's early films; you know him as the director of the great current hit starring Jack Black, School of Rock. You'll recognize a raft of actors who got their start with this film: Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey, who - as the guy who's graduated but still hangs with the high school kids - has the great line: "That's what I like about these high-school girls; I keep getting older, but they stay the same age." There's some language, but it's realistic - an earmark of Linklater's films - so it's appropriate for 13 and over.
Bill Pullman is goofball private detective named Daryl Zero. Ben Stiller is his gopher/lawyer/assistant. Detective Zero is the best detective around, smooth when he's on the job, can solve just about any mystery. However, when he's not out doing his thing, he's startlingly neurotic and weird. Stiller stands out in an early example of what he does best, the exasperated nice guy in the middle of events he didn't create. This one's a pretty solid "R," so 16 and over is best.
Commenters, what say you? Got any good sleepers to foist upon us for those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer?