Runaway Train

YEAR: 1985

WRITER: Djordje Milicevic & Paul Zindel & Edward Bunker (screenplay), Akira Kurosawa (based on a screenplay by), Ryûzô Kikushima & Hideo Oguni (story)

DIRECTOR: Andrey Konchalovskiy

BUDGET: $9 million (estimated)

GROSS: $7,936,012

 

Runaway Train is one-third prison escape movie and two-thirds runaway train movie. after busting out of an alaskan maximum-security prison, manny (jon voight) and buck (eric roberts) cross a frozen wasteland and hop on a train. but, the engineer has a heart attack the train becomes a runaway train...

both voight and roberts were nominated for academy awards and golden globes and director konchalovskiy was nominated for a palm d'or at cannes. also, the film is based on a screenplay by the great akira kurusawa. given those last two sentences - how can you not be curious to see this film? i know i sure was. so how was it you ask? well, it was really good. but, it was good partly because of, but also, in spite of itself. allow me to explain...

the film plays big and in so doing it tries to walk that line of grand vs. over the top. but it keeps taking steps over that line. beginning with the performances. i honestly have no idea how roberts and voight got nominations.

i will say that i think jon voight is a great actor, but in this film i don't know if most of the time he can even see the line from where he is. his performance, and roberts' as well, is so big and theatrical - like he is playing to the back of a crowded theatre. sometimes he rains it in to "good big" levels, but then in the next scene there he goes again. and his performance is kind of a metaphor for the film itself. konchalovskiy seems to have a solid vision for the movie that sometimes gets away from him.

this inconsistency can also be heard in the films score. while some action moments were backed up with this typical 80s synth score, others were brought to life with a beautiful heavy dramatic sound that really brought the grand weight of the drama to life. there is definitely a shakespearian element to the script and the characters, highlighted by the quote from Richard III that closes the film.

Runaway Train deserves credit as a good thriller/action film. the train sequences are good (it looks like they did a lot of stuff with real trains), the film moves at a nice pace and the script provides us with enough information to care and understand what's going on without feeling the need for loads of exposition. and i gotta say that i really liked the ending - which is often where many of these types of movies end up failing. the big dramatic finale is an example of konchalovskiy walking right up to that "over the top" line but not crossing it.

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Awful Normal

YEAR: 2004

DIRECTOR: Celesta Davis

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: appears to have never had a theatrical run

 

with a tagline like "what would you say to the man who molested you?" you can't get a more direct summary of what the film, Awful Normal is about.

when celesta davis and her sister karen were children they were each molested by her dad's best friend (who was married to their mom's best friend). now, 25 years later they have decided - after many years of talking about it - to confront him.

the most important thing to remember about this film is how personal it is. the specifics of the film making really aren't that important. the film feels very real and honest and almost like you are eavesdropping on your neighbors going through a hard time - except that with the voice overs and certain acknowledgments of the cameras, you know they want you to watch. that it's okay to watch.

as for the film making itself? it's fine. there were moments where i wanted more information and there was one or two editing/directorial decisions that seemed a little disjointed from the pace and tome of the rest of the film, but, that's okay.

the film is about capturing celesta and her sister and her mother on this journey towards some possible kind of resolution. and the moments leading up to celesta's confronting of her molester as well as the conversation that follows are tense, powerful and very emotional.

this isn't a reporter talking to a child molester for some news program. this is the child he molested talking to him. its almost a little surreal at times as the conversation begins with small talk before getting to the reason why she is there.

Awful Normal isn't setting out to solve the problem or explain why things like that happen. rather, it set out to with the sole purpose of telling celesta's story and allowing her to confront the man that molested her. Unfortunately, there are so many other stories out there that need to be told.

p.s. i would also recommend a better film, Stevie, which i discussed on the podcast earlier this year.

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44 Inch Chest

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Louis Mellis & David Scinto

DIRECTOR: Malcolm Venville

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: £152,171 (UK)

when colin (ray winstone) finds out his wife has been unfaithful, his friends kidnap the wife's lover and hold him captive so that the colin can get his revenge. so is the story of 44 Inch Chest. the film stars ray winstone, john hurt, tom wilkinson, stephen dillane and ian mcshane and they are all in top form here.

there are flashbacks and some "dream" sequences, but other than that the film all takes place in, and just outside, the room where they are holding the wife's lover - who they refer to as loverboy. the film isn't based on a play, but it really feels like it could be in how simple the locations are and how wonderfully talky it is.

what was funny (not funny ha ha, but funny interesting), was that after having watched the movie i read what some critics had said about it at the time and two of the most popular negative comments towards the movie were that it was talky and stagey. some even referred to it as, and i'm paraphrasing here, a group of brilliant actors trying to one-up each other and an actor's workshop...

do i disagree with those comments? not really. the difference is that for me they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film, nor did i even see them as negatives that the film had to overcome to be good. i really enjoyed watching these guys act and listening to them talk. and the script (from the same two guys that wrote Sexy Beast) is worth listening to. it definitely wasn't perfect though. the dream/fantasy elements of the third act felt like they were a little out of place. i get why they were there, but it didn't feel like it completely worked.

i also read some complaints about the ending, but i have to say i really appreciated it. yes it is almost anti-climactic, but for me it was very satisfying.

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Five Minutes Of Heaven

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Guy Hibbert

DIRECTOR: Oliver Hirschbiegel

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $13,217

between 2001 and 2005, director oliver hirschbiegel made four films in his native germany - two of which were the pretty good Das Experiment and the great Downfall (i haven't seen the other two yet). then in 2007 he faltered with his first english language film, the not good movie that was The Invasion (check out my discussion of all four Invasion Of The Body Snatchers versions here).

thankfully he got back up on the horse and in 2009 delivered Five Minutes Of Heaven, a film about truth and reconciliation that in a way is a reconciliation of its own with fans of hirschbiegel who had had to sit through The Invasion - okay, so that's me being a bit over dramatic, but i liked the metaphor so i went with it.

Five Minutes Of Heaven begins in northern ireland in 1975. alistair little is 17 years old and a member of the uvf and he is getting ready to kill his first catholic. the problem is that when he gets to the house to do it, the victims 11-year old younger brother, joe griffin is outside and alistair does it right in front of him.

cut to 33 years later and both boys (now grown men) are being driven separately to a house where a television show has promoted and arranged for the two men to meet for the first time since that night. the crew is there and everyone is ready to film the meeting and that first handshake leading to truth and reconciliation.

in the ensuing years since the incident, little did serve 12 years in prison and since then has traveled a lot, had many speaking engagements, has been involved in helping other reconciliations and has become a bit of a celebrity. the way his driver and the tv crew all talk to him with almost reverence is a little eerie.

on the other hand, griffin has never got over it. his mother basically blamed him for what had happened - saying that he didn't do anything to stop it - and never forgave him. he has lived for 33 years with the image of what happened and the guilt and anger from his own mother weighing on him. while the tv crew and cameras are there to capture the truth and reconciliation, joe griffin wants revenge.

both neeson and nesbitt give strong performances and guy hibbert's script is allowed to shine as herschbiegel takes a very simple approach to the story telling. the film almost feels like a play as it plays out in but a few locations - thus putting the dialogue and the performances front and centre.

although things don't go as smoothly in the film, after having watched Five Minutes In Heaven i would be more than willing to meet director oliver hirschbiegle in person and shake his hand and reconcile with him and forgive him for the pain he caused me - and every other theatre goer - that had to sit through The Invasion.

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The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos)

YEAR: 2009

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Juan Jose Campanella

BUDGET: $2,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS (USA): $6,207,191

if The Secret In Their Eyes sounds familiar it may be because you watched the academy awards earlier this year and saw this film win the oscar for best foreign language film. it beat out my pick, The White Ribbon and at the time i was a little surprised because i thought The White Ribbon was a good film and it seemed to have all the "hype" behind it (what with also getting a cinematography nod and having a director with a name behind it - michael haneke).

well don't call me surprised anymore. having just seen The Secret In Their Eyes i can tell you that the academy voters definitely made the right choice.

the film takes place in buenos aires in 1999 as retired argentinian federal justice agent benjamín espósito is writing a novel, using an old closed case as the source material. the case happened 25 years ago and it is one that he has never been able to forget. the film cuts back and forth between present day (1999) and the mid-70s as events unfolded.

while the case is at the heart of the film, this isn't a whodunit. in fact the mystery of the crime isn't that complicated nor is it the focus of the movie. really the crimes effect on the characters is what matters here. from esposito to his friend sandoval, their boss irene (who he has been in love with for 25 years) and the victims husband.

it was interesting, because it doesn't take them that long to figure out who actually committed the horrific crime. and as i watched, part of me wondered what the rest of the film was going to be about once they caught the guy. how would they drag out the rest of the film and what would be the point. well, the point was these characters and their relationships to each other and their search for some kind of truth and justice. there is no dragging here. and the film is also just so wonderfully put together.

from a pure technical view point the direction and editing are brilliant. the way campanella made many of the transitions between the scenes from the 70s and 1999 was sublime. in one scene irene and esposito are talking on the phone late at night in 1999 and he asks her is she wants to talk some more. she replies that no, she will just make some tea and try to fall asleep. cut to her hand stirring a tea cup in 1975.

that is just one obvious example and it might sound a little corny, but trust me when i tell you it is seamless and beautiful and it would sometimes bring a wry smile to my face in appreciation of some edit or transition that worked perfectly while also kind of being a little wink at the audience asking, "did you catch that?" the great direction and editing brought to mind another film that also does the back-and-forth many years apart thing so well. the french canadian film Le Confessional from director robert lepage.

juan jose campanella co-wrote, directed and edited The Secret In Their Eyes and he obviously had a strong vision (no pun intended) for this film, which he beautifully managed to capture in what has been presented to us, the audience, in the final product up on screen.

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Equilibrium

YEAR: 2002

WRITER: Kurt Wimmer

DIRECTOR: Kurt Wimmer

BUDGET: $20 million (estimated)

GROSS: $1,203,974

 

some films i talk about on Filmed But Not Forgotten are films i come across randomly. others i know about through research or i check out because of the director or someone involved in the film. then others, like Equilibrium, are films that get recommended to me.

this film came out in 2002 and it has been recommended to me at various times by completely different people over the course of those eight years. i remember a friend of mine even had the poster up in their den back in '02 and at the time i had actually never even heard of it (which i am sure was/is the case for lots of people out there given the measly box office returns it generated upon its release).

so the other day i was dvd shopping as i love to do and i saw the blu-ray edition of the film on sale for about $15. i decided to get it (i also picked up Reservoir Dogs the 15th anniversary edition on blu-ray) and this week i threw it in my blu-ray player and checked it out.

Equilibrium is set in the future after world war III. society has realized that mankind won't be able to survive a world war IV. so the fascist regime as moved to eliminate what makes us human: feelings/emotions.literature, music and art are all being eliminated and society is on a drug called prozium which eliminates emotions. christian bale is cleric john preston. a top ranking government agent responsible for destroying those who resist the rules. but when he misses a dose himself, he begins to see things differently.

i knew from the dvd menu alone, and then once the film started, that the film had a strong visual style. however, we all know that visuals alone can't carry a film. and i was a little worried that the film was going to feel corny and melodramatic. a fascist future, a drone-like society, a resistance. if you watch any of these types of movies you know that those three things are almost must-haves for any dystopian future film.

and its obvious why. they allow for grand ideas and themes to be presented and for a positive look at the human spirit and how human nature can survive and win out against our evil and self-destructive nature (that has brought us to the point we are when these films begin). i get it. however, if you are giving us a grand presentation that we have seen many times before, you better do it well. and Equilibrium does.

there is also the beautiful cinematography and visually engaging fight sequences that all work together to create a world and a style that is more then just a pretty facade. and they did it all on a $20 million dollar budget which is incredible.

about half way through the film i started to get a little worried that it was heading down a very typical path and i wasn't sure it had given me enough to go there with it. but i stayed with it and it worked. sure, its a little predictable. but there are a couple nice little twists and turns which keep you on your toes and then there is just the really solid script that brings depth and emotion to characters and a story that could have been stale.

 

P.S. Equilibrium was kurt wimmer's directorial debut and he followed it up four years later with the also nice looking set in the future, but not at all as good (actually had it as #3 on my list of worst films of 2006) film Ultraviolet. but he has worked mostly as a writer on such films as The Thomas Crown Affaire (1999), The Recruit and Law Abiding Citizen. he also wrote the screenplay for the upcoming angelina jolie film Salt.

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Observe And Report

YEAR: 2009

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Jody Hill

BUDGET: $18 million (estimated)

GROSS: $23,930,794

 

films get lost in the shuffle for a variety of reasons. sometimes there just isn't any publicity so no one even knows it exists. sometimes the initial critical reviews are negative (right or wrong) and then there are films like Observe And Report.

this one had a some star power with seth rogan in the lead role and there was at least some publicity for it, as i remember seeing trailers for it many times on tv and in the theatre. now, i will say that critical response was pretty much 50/50, but i don't think that is why this film got lost. unfortunately, i think the reason it got lost was the film itself. stick with me here.....

Observe And Report is a dark comedy about a bi-polar mall security guard trying to bring down a flasher who is terrorizing the mall area.  he is also in love with anna ferris who works in the mall, lives at home with his drunk mother and is very territorial when the real cops (ray liotta) are brought in to investigate.

when the general public thinks of seth rogan they think Knocked Up and Superbad. so when they see a trailer with him playing a character in a dark comedy that is 180 degrees from his general perception they might not know what to make of it. also, there is that trailer...

this is not an easy film to make a trailer for. it made me think of a film like Worlds Greatest Dad - another dark comedy that is a little difficult to make a please-everyone trailer for. both films aren't simple set-up/punch line, or visual gag comedies that make for easy trailering. and finally, there might have been a little mall cop movie overload...

i have to admit that when i first saw the trailer for Observe And Report my first reaction was, "really? another mall cop movie?" as some of you may remember, earlier in 2009 there was released a film called Paul Blart: Mall Cop which did surprisingly big numbers. it was another Armageddon/Deep Impact and Dante's Peak/Volcano situation...

however, if i had given Observe And Report a chance, i would have seen that, not only was it not at all the same kind of mall cop comedy, but it was also really good (another thing that sets it apart from Paul Blart).

so, now it is your turn to give it a shot and catch one of the better dark comedies to come along in the last few years. and one of seth rogan's best performances as well.

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Stevie

YEAR: 2002

DIRECTOR: Steve James

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $97,044

 

in 1982 steve james became an "advocate big brother" to stevie fielding. in 1995, he went back to see what had happened to stevie and his family since he had left. what began as an idea for a simple film profile, became a four and a half year chronicle - as unanticipated events transpired that lead the film down a path steve probably never expected. it also served to pull him into the film more than he had probably intended as well.

one type of documentary film making involves the film makers not being a part of the film. they are to document the subject, but stay as removed as possible. Stevie is not one of those films. steve james is almost as much a part of the movie as his subject, stevie, is.

one of the reasons steve james went back to make this movie in the first place was because of the guilt he felt for having left. sure, he had to move on with his life and such, but part of him always felt like he had let stevie down when he left and didn't stay in contact like he had planned. so, you get the sense from the beginning that this project is important to james on a very personal - and of course partly selfish level. and i don't think he would deny that. but, the personal nature of the project also makes it so interesting.

and his direct involvement with the subject, stevie, is taken to a whole other level when stevie is accused and arrested for a very serious crime. james wants to help, but he is also disturbed by what stevie has been accused of doing. there are a lot of voice overs throughout the film as james tells us about what he is thinking and feeling and you can feel/hear him fighting an internal battle with when to help and when to let things play out as they are. and looking back, i wonder if he feels he did the right thing?

besides the steve and stevie relationship and the story that follows stevie's arrest, the film is also a really interesting look at how some kids just never get the help they need and deserve.

stevie had a really hard life growing up and it really seemed like no one knew how to help him or cared enough to try. the one foster family that he had and loved left him cause they had to - and after that things continued to go downhill. one of the most powerful moments in the movie is when james takes stevie to visit those initial foster parents all these years later and you can see how much they meant to him. they are really wonderful people and stevie really is a different person when he is with them. who knows what could have been....

the films look at stevie's past and all the crap that he has been through, does not come across, or at least it didn't to me, as making excuses for what he did. it would have been easy, on one side, to just blame his childhood or, on the other side, to completely villainize him. but, it didn't feel like the film did either. although, i think many people will have different opinions on that depending on where they are personally coming from as they overlay their own experiences and beliefs onto the movie.

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The Salton Sea

YEAR: 2002

WRITER: Tony Gayton

DIRECTOR: D.J. Caruso

BUDGET: $18 Million (estimated)

GROSS: $765,554

 

if i was putting a list together of directors who have wasted their potential, D.J. Caruso would be on that list. however, if the only films of his you have seen were Taking Lives, Two For The Money, Disturbia and Eagle Eye you would probably be thinking where is the "potential" in the first place? what is he wasting?

sure, Eagle Eye was ok, but Taking Lives wasn't very good and Disturbia was a film that i liked till the final act where it all fell apart and took the film down with it. so, where is the potential you ask? it is at The Salton Sea.

the film looks great and has an interesting story that plays within the drug/crime/revenge genre but makes its own way through it. even the few twists aren't that predictable. The Salton Sea was caruso's first film and it feels like it - and i mean that in a good way. like he is making the film he really wants to make. like he had a real vision for how he was going to film and tell the story and he was able to get on celluloid what he had in his head.

the question i have is, are the films he has made since The Salton Sea the ones he has wanted to make or have the studios been more involved and hence has there two cents ended up stifling what the films could have been. not to say they all would have been good regardless.

but, i think Eagle Eye had a pretty interesting premise. and, ya it was an alright film, but not great. then, with a film like Disturbia which was quite good for the first 3/4 of the movie and then just gets ruined with the last 1/4 i want to believe it was outside influences that forced it to happen in an attempt to appeal to more audiences and play better at screenings, etc...

now, i could be all wrong and maybe what we are seeing now from mister caruso is all we are gonna get from now on and The Salton Sea was an anomaly. but, im not ready to say that just yet...

and, given that most people have probably seen his more popular films and not The Salton Sea it could have the reverse effect. watching this one it will be like seeing a director break out from his place as a solid go to hollywood director who toes the company line to a film-maker to watch with vision and style.... maybe, in the end its just all about perception?

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11:14

Year: 2003

Writer & Director: Greg Marcks

Budget: $6 million (estimated)

Gross: ?

This film brings together 5 different stories that all revolve around each other and culminate with a couple car accidents that take place at 11:14pm one evening. the film is one story told from 5 different perspectives. kind of like Vantage Point, but really good.

also, unlike Vantage Point, 11:14 doesn't start each story from the exact same time. some begin 20 minutes before the 11:14 moment and others begin only a couple minutes prior and take us past the title time by 10-20 minutes.

one of the things that really impressed me about the film was the attention to detail. when you have interweaving perspectives and time is so crucial there is a lot of room to mess up. but, marcks looks to have taken quite a bit of time to figure all the details out and it was well worth it. as the film progressed i really felt like i knew where everyone was at all times and that the timeline worked and made sense.

also, marcks didn't get caught up with loads of unnecessary exposition. by that i mean he trusted the audience and his script to take us along for the ride and provide us with all the information by the end.

in telling a story this was there are obviously going to be moments throughout that require more explanation: who is that person? why was she there? why did he do that? etc.... however, each question that comes up in one perspective always gets answered in another one along the way and the script is confident enough to leave unanswered questions till it is time for them to be answered and not create false moments in order to provide quick answers.

this also made it fun for me to piece together the events of the evening as i gathered more information and started seeing moments from one perspective that i had seen previously from another and had forgotten about or not realized how important they were till i had more pieces of the puzzle.

i don't think this film ever got a theatrical releae in north america, but it did play at multiple fests like cannes and toronto to name just a few. so, unless you were lucky enough to be at one of those festival screenings, go pick this one up on dvd and see one that many people have missed and forgotten.

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