The Missed, the Dissed, and the  

[IMPORTANT NOTE: PLEASE MENTALLY PREFACE EVERY STATEMENT BELOW WITH THE PHRASE "IN OUR [my] OPINION."]

We all love  Amadeus, Gandhi, The Godfather. They made the big bucks, won awards, we can whistle the theme songs, and quote the dialog verbatim. But there are other neglected films (often  in spite of critical praise) - forgotten, often mis-marketed, underappreciated, or misunderstood films that we at mondayMEDIA love and are offering for sale. Many, but not all, of these films walk a fine line, often, but not always, too profane for the pious and at the same time too God-affirming for the dogmatically secular. 

Here is a partial list of some of the our favorite underappreciated films, partial because not all are available on DVD (e.g. Household Saints)  or at a price that makes them practical for resale at $9.95 (The Believer, True Confessions, They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Snow Cake, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) or they're a box set (Slings & Arrows) and also because this feature is a work in progress. But here is a growing list of what we think are gems, listed in alphabetical order. We will try not to say much about the plots in our write-ups, which will be of a personal nature, beefed up by editorial reviews as available. All DVDs are $9.95 (plus S&H, sales tax to California destinations) unless otherwise noted.


Bee Season - Richard Gere & Juliette Binoche DVD $9.95 Drama

What was marketed to appear to be a heartwarming family drama about spelling bees and triumphalism  is actually a very interesting film about the quest for God. It is an adaptation of Myla Goldberg's sensational first novel. In comparing the book and film, the book, as usual, is much richer, although the people in the film, as usual, are much more physically attractive; but the film does capture the essence of Goldberg's remarkable book.

Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

The performance by Flora Cross is haunting in its seriousness. She doesn't act out; she acts in.

[Although Roger Ebert liked this film a lot, the review gives away too much. However, you can read his review by following the link below.] 

Read Full Review 

Los Angeles Times - Kenneth Turan

With the help of clear direction and some excellent acting, especially from Flora Cross in a memorable debut as Eliza, Bee Season is affecting in ways that movies have all but given up trying to be.

Read Full Review

Wall Street Journal - Joe Morgenstern

For a film filled with jagged shards of glass, and sometimes shot kaleidoscopically, through the windows of houses or cars, Bee Season is carefully, almost relentlessly, intended. That said, the script, by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, touches on themes that rarely make it to the big screen.

Portland Oregonian - Shawn Levy

Sometimes a movie can defy rational logic, yet still make sense emotionally in a way that pulls you through. Bee Season is one.

 


Changing Lanes - Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson DVD Drama $9.95

A thought-provoking character study. Great cast, great reviews, went unnoticed by audiences. Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson star, respectively, as Gavin Banek and Doyle Gibson, two New Yorkers whose lives become accidentally intertwined in a Good Friday fender bender on the FDR Drive. A whirlpool of retaliation ensues.

 


The Chosen - Rod Steiger, Maximillian Schell DVD Drama $9.95

The Chosen is based on Chaim Potok's novel about the conflict between submitting oneself to an established religion and the allure of free thinking. Both sides are successfully argued with a depth that indicates the understanding gained by the personal experience of wrestling with these issues. Rod Steiger steals the film with yet another terrific performance.

 

 

 

A Face in the Crowd

Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan, Aaron Neville, Shirley Caesar, Mighty Clouds of Joy & More DVD Documentary/Music $9.95

This film is both terrific performance sequences (with a nifty feature that let's you opt to interrupt the documentary and see the performance whole) and a documentary that studies a largely overlooked body of Dylan's work. For my part, I was attracted by the performances,  real Gospel artists realizing the songs in a  way that the songwriter hasn't the chops for.

Editorial Review

An all-star cast of gospel singers transforms legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan's gospel compositions into the Grammy-nominated 2003 album Gotta Serve Somebody, and cameras are there to catch all the musical magic as it happens. As a group of dedicated gospel musicians step into the studio to record brand new interpretations of such Dylan classics as "Pressing On" and "When He Returns," interviews with the artists and live performance footage offer an intimate look at the hard work and dedication that went into this landmark production. Commentary by Dylan contemporaries Jim Keltner and Regina McCrary, producer Jerry Wexler, and music journalists Alan Light and Paul Williams offer even greater insight into the creative force that drove Dylan's gospel period, with additional performance footage of Dylan singing "When He Returns" in 1980 offering fans a firsthand look at one of the songs that inspired the Gotta Serve Somebody album. 

Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

 

 


I'm Your Man DVD $9.95

A documentary that intercuts a very tasty tribute concert with interviews and biography of Cohen. The film features Rufus Wainwright, Anthony, Nick Cave, U2, Martha Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jarvis Crocker, Beth Ortin, Teddy Thompson, Linda Thompson, Perla Batalla, and more performing Cohen's songs.

Cohen himself is an interesting study having once been a Zen monk after having having fully experienced life in the world and coming up still wanting. The songs reflect a very interesting mind that faces life without blinking and finds strength in accepting the heartbreak of the human condition.  

 

 


Jiro Dreams of Sushi DVD $9.95

The person who encouraged me to watch this film described it as "Making sushi for God." And she's not a religious person. Jiro is the living embodiment of work as worship. 

The filmmaker, David Gelb, declared of Jiro: "Originally, I was going to make a film with a lot of different sushi chefs who all had different styles, but when I got to Jiro's restaurant, I was not only amazed by how good the sushi was and how much greater it was than any other sushi restaurant I had ever been to, but I also found Jiro to be such a compelling character and such an interesting person. I was also fascinated by the story of his son, who is fifty-years-old, but still works for his father at the restaurant. So, I thought, 'Here's a story about a person living in his father's shadow while his father is in a relentless pursuit of perfection.' It was the makings of a good feature film." This is an understatement.

Can also be viewed on Netflix Instant Watch

 


Rejoice & Shout - DVD $9.95

REJOICE & SHOUT covers 200 years of musical history of African-American Christianity, featuring the legends of Gospel music, including The Staple Singers, The Clara Ward Singers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Culled from hundreds of hours of music, tracing the evolution of gospel music through its many styles the spirituals and early hymns, the four-part harmony-based quartets, the integration of blues and swing, the emergence of soul, and the blending of rap and hip-hop elements. It connects the history of African-American culture with gospel as it first impacted popular culture at large and captures so much of what is special about this music and African-American Christianity. 
Can also be viewed on Netflix Instant Watch

 


Rize $9.95

The critically acclaimed film Rize is a documentary by photographer and music video director David LaChapelle. He became aware of the dance style krump while filming a music video in Los Angeles, where both clown dancing and krump, a demanding and inventive dance style that relies on spontaneity, improvisation, and genuineness of expression, were created. Many of the performers, Tommy the Clown, Miss Prissy, Tight Eyez, are well-known in the dance culture that encompasses krump, clown dancing, and other styles touched on in the film. Rize is a moving film that juxtaposes dance with fascinating personal stories. 

Here is an exhaustive review from an Amazon posting, reproduced in full:  This movie may be about the urban phenomenon of krump and clown dancing but it is truly about so much more. The opening scene is old footage of the Watts riots and this theme of the cultural and social background of the kids that participate in this new art form is the thread that holds this movie together. LaChapelle is an amazing photographer and he brings his keen eye to the screen. This is a visually stunning movie without a doubt. But he brings his sensitivity to the social issues as well. He lets the kids and the community speak for themselves. It is often sad enough to get you crying but never despairing. There is such passion and self-awareness in these kids and in their dancing. The movements alone can elicit tears, and awe. There is a disclaimer at the start of the film stating the film was not sped up at any point. It is an important thing to state because you cannot believe how these dancers move themselves. Kids as young as 4 and 5, people in all shapes and sizes, all expressing their passion, anger, love, pain, humour with their bodies. LaChapelle makes sure to make all the links for you, from revival gospel links to African ritual dance, as well as the urgency this new subculture has driving it. It is plainly stated that these clown and krump crews have taken the place of gangs for many of the people involved and turned into non-violent gangs of their own. But it is also understood by the audience, the director and the people themselves that what they are now embracing has none of the violence or destructiveness that the gang life held for them. This is a changing movie, capable of true connection to any audience member. The emotions conveyed by the dancers coupled with the implied social commentary by the director (thankfully he only allows his voice to be heard a very few times, important to keep the flow in this movie) are so pure and direct that you do not need to be "of" these groups to feel what they are trying to say. I highly recommend it for everyone. I brought my 12 year old daughter, there is very little that would be objectionable to kids over 8. Under 8 kids just might not get it. There is some "stripper" dancing, but all clothes remain on. I did not notice a lot of swearing even. 

M. Malloy

          

   

 


The Third Miracle Starring Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Directed by Agnieszka Holland $9.95

Absolutely love this film. It is rich in subtlety and  surprises. Considered an indy, it did well with the critics. Generally, the book is better than the film; but in this case, I found the book more obnoxious the further into it I got. It was ham-fisted, crude, and resorted to  spookiness, which took it out of the realm of relevance. By contrast, the film is poetic. I was surprised to see that the author of the novel also worked on the screen play. Director Agnieszka Holland also directed Copying Beethoven and several episodes of HBO's The Wire and Treme.  I will quote from some of the reviews below:

Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert 

Here is a rarity, a film about religion that is neither pious nor sensational, simply curious. No satanic possessions, no angelic choirs, no evil spirits, no lovers joined beyond the grave. Just a man doing his job.

Read the original article. Spoiler Alert: it reveals a lot of the plot.

SF Chronicle

Sacred, Profane Meet in `Miracle' Holland's film an earthy, sexy mystery
Peter Stack, Chronicle Staff Critic

Glimpsing the supernatural may be the toughest of all tasks for filmmakers. Dealing in concrete images, they must stay grounded in the physical world or risk getting too ``out there'' or, worse, becoming boring or preachy. 

None of these pitfalls mars the provocative, sinewy new mystery-romance ``The Third Miracle,'' starring Ed Harris, Anne Heche and Armin Mueller-Stahl. The dark but beautifully illuminating film opens today at ...

Read the original article. Spoiler Alert: it reveals a lot of the plot.

Philadelphia Inquirer Carrie Rickey

So profoundly does The Third Miracle live up to its title that Agnieszka Holland's exceptional meditation upon a priest's crisis of faith might win the endorsement of archdiocese and agnostic alike.

 


Wit directed by Mike Nichols, starring Emma Thompson $9.95

Alright, having won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play by Margaret Edson  and an Emmy for Mike Nichols, the director of this adaptation, Wit may not fit the underappreciated category of this list. However, the nature of the subject matter makes it one of those films that people don't flock to watch;it's not an easy feel good flick. In fact, one of the viewer reviews warns against viewing by people who are sad or depressed. However, we found this film beautiful, provocative, and exhilarating; but its enjoyment requires a mentality that for 99 minutes can dare to entertain the concept from the Katha Upanishad,  "...death itself [is] a condiment."

Review by Karl Williams

The migration of top-notch cinematic talent to the less-constrained arena of pay television continued with this adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the cable channel HBO from director Mike Nichols. Nichols gives it the old college try with plenty of high angles and creative lighting schemes, but the story never quite succeeds in overcoming its stage-bound roots. That's the sole flaw, however, of what is one of the year's best made-for-television films, nominated for seven Emmys and winning three (including one for Nichols as Best Director). An emotionally devastating portrait of a dying woman whose superior mind and flinty personality are intact to an unfortunate and heartbreaking degree, the film manages to have its lacerating say about the educational and health care systems while never forgetting that it's primarily the tale of a dying woman who is fighting to maintain a shred of dignity while having been stripped down, literally, to her essence, even her hair having been taken away. Wit is the story of a person who couldn't possibly be more naked, refusing to give in to self-pity despite mind-numbing amounts of pain and humiliation, a demanding role that requires a mammoth talent. Emma Thompson doesn't disappoint, with a performance that is absolutely stunning in its emotional complexity, intellectual integrity, and sheer elastic flexibility: deconstructing the death imagery in the work of poet John Donne one minute, vomiting into a basin the next, she has made herself by turns as ravaged, flinty, desperate, and fiercely defiant as her character. Theirs is certainly not a film for the faint of heart, but Nichols and Thompson have created something special and given the world further proof that some of the best artistic work in film can now be found in television, the medium once considered cinema's greatest nemesis.
 

 


Zardoz writer/director John Boorman, starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, Paul Alderton (most, if not all, from Shakespearean companies) $9.95

This film hit me right between the eyes. Its central question, as stated by writer/director John Boorman, is the effect of immortality on the human being. Boorman was intrigued by this theme since reading, as a young man, Aldous Huxley's novel After Many a Summer Dies the Swan.  Personally, I think Boorman's treatment of the issue of what role death plays in the human condition is more completely thought out than was Huxley's handling of it in Many a Summer.  The look of it is also great. It was one of the last sci-fi films made before Star Wars and is, to sci-fi fans for whom action and special effects [boring!] are what it's all about, primitive. But in fact, it's more closely related to old school literary sci-fi where the philosophical concepts are paramount and nothing needs to explode. Boorman himself admits that this is not a perfect film by any means. But it is one that he was driven to make. He was riding high, having just made Deliverance.  he filmed Zardoz near his country home in Ireland for almost no money. many of the extras were Travelers with painted on loin cloths.

To me, the library scene is one of the most provocative things I've ever seen on film.

Review from Amazon

A box office failure, John Boorman's Zardoz has developed a cult following among science fiction fans whose tastes run toward more cerebral fare, such as The Andromeda Strain and Phase IV. An entrancing if overly ambitious (by Boorman's own admission) film, Zardoz offers pointed commentary on class structure and religion inside its complex plot and head-movie visuals; its healthy doses of sex and violence will involve viewers even if the story machinations escape them. Beautifully photographed near Boorman's home in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains by Geoffrey Unsworth (2001), its production design is courtesy of longtime Boorman associate Anthony Pratt, who creates a believable society within the film's million-dollar budget. The letterboxed DVD presentation includes engaging commentary by Boorman, who discusses the special effects (all created in-camera) as well as working with a post-Bond Connery. --Paul Gaita