Secretly Awesome

Secretly Awesome - Event Horizon (1997)

Submitted by tom on October 7, 2014 - 12:15am


 

Event Horizon follows a rescue team on a mission to investigate what happened to a portal-jumping space-ship that has just re-appeared after it was missing for seven years. It turns out the ship has been to some Hellish dimension and brought back some kind of energy force that drives people insane, and when the rescue team arrives, they find the bloody remains of the ship's crew. What may sound like a routine B-movie turns out to have some top-notch production value, a cast of under-used character actors, and some surprisingly reserved direction from none other than Paul W.S. Anderson, the man responsible for the Resident Evil franchise, which is anything but reserved.

Secretly Awesome
Event Horizon
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The first hour of Event Horizon is all tension build-up, and surprisingly effective build-up at that. Sure, we learn all of the things we expect to learn, and quickly realize that the crew members will be separated through a strange sequence of events and picked off one-by-one in the end, but what makes Event Horizon different is its amazing set design and art direction, as well as some eerie lighting effects. There's something creepy in every room and every corridor that sets a very unsettling tone that the rest of the film keeps pace with for a while, as the crew explore the ship, and come across places like the hatch that opens up into the green ventilation shaft maze. As this goes on, we start to see the crew's waking nightmares, which cause them to do some crazy things until the whole thing devolves into a big, bloody death-trap. And I say "devolve" there with love, because the last half hour is actually pretty satisfyingly gory.

A lot of this could have been terrible (I'd be interested to read the screenplay to see how bad it might be), but it was really well-cast. The actors take the material seriously enough and deliver the expository dialogue with enough gravity for me to be more than willing to suspend disbelief. And Anderson's direction is pretty subtle at times; he lets a lot of moments play out slowly, sometimes almost painfully slowly, like a scene in which a possessed crew-mate goes into the cargo bay with the intention of opening the hatch into space. The scene lasts for minutes as the powerless crew try to talk him down. It's pretty intense. And of course, Event Horizon ends like a 90s action film should, with a showdown in a random location. In this case, Fishburne faces a demonic ripped-faced Sam Neill in a literal bloodbath at the base of a spherical room which holds a spinning orb-like multi-dimensional portal, which is on fire. Not to be missed.

Event Horizon (1997)
Event Horizon at the IMDb
Rated: R
Directed by: Paul W. S. Anderson
Written by: Philip Eisner
Featuring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan and Joely Richardson
Plot: A rescue crew investigates a spaceship that disappeared into a black hole and has now returned...with someone or something new on-board.

Trailer:

Feature by Bradley Redder of This Week's Movie. Have a Secretly Awesome suggestion that you'd like to propose? Or have a past or present entry you'd like to argue about? Feel free to e-mail Brad at maxfischar@gmail.com.

Secretly Awesome - Virtuosity (1995)

Submitted by tom on August 20, 2014 - 7:54pm


 

90s Cyberpunk doesn't get much better, or much worse than Brett Leonard's Virtuosity. Okay, it probably gets a lot worse, but not while maintaining such a high level of enjoyability.

Secretly Awesome
Virtuosity
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The plot of Virtuosity is nonsensical at best, though it is the best kind of nonsensical, revolving around a computer training program for police to track down serial killers that is given corporeal form and set loose on a killing rampage around L.A. Fittingly crude CGI effects involving Russell Crowe's limbs regenerating when he touches glass, silly demonstrations of predicted futuristic technology, and a mess of hokey computer interfaces are just a few of the wonderful things you'll find in this film. And that's not even mentioning the symphony of human screams scene, in which Crowe's Sid 6.7 terrorizes a nightclub and tries to orchestrate screams into music. It's twisted and bizarre, and played with a wink, as pretty much all of Crowe's scenes are.

People might just see a lot of this movie as being so bad that it's good, and they wouldn't be totally wrong; but it's also just a brilliantly strange film, and I always love to see a fully-realized Hollywood production of something that is this bizarre. That said, the one thing that is genuinely great, and the reason Virtuosity deserves to be called "secretly awesome" is Russell Crowe, who turns in what had to have been one of the most enjoyable performances of 1995. It needs to be added to the canon of the the all-time great over-the-top screen performances. Sid 6.7 is an attention-craving, cocky cyber-bully synthesized from the personalities of two-hundred notorious serial killers, who goes on a creative kill-spree in L.A. And Crowe just feeds off of the ridiculousness of it, playing Sid with a swagger and a gorgeous comically demonic laugh. It's beautiful to watch. As for Denzel... well, he pretty much phones it in. But even a phoned-in Denzel can be entertaining. According to the imdb trivia page, he accepted the role because his son asked him to. But honestly, Crowe more than makes up for it.

In addition to Denzel and Crowe, Virtuosity also boasts a nice supporting cast, which includes Louise Fletcher, William Fichtner, and William Forsythe, who gives the greatest delivery of "Anybody using this chair?" you could ever imagine. Seriously. And Virtuosity ends how all 90s action-thrillers should... with the good guy squaring off against the bad guy in a random, inaccessible-under-normal-circumstances location. In this case, on the rooftop heating combines of a skyscraper which houses the television station in which Sid 6.7 is broadcasting live murders to the world.

Brett Leonard also directed The Lawnmower Man, another 90s techno-thriller and surely a candidate for a future post, as soon as I can track down a copy of the out-of-print DVD. But for now, Virtuosity will definitely suffice.

Virtuosity (1995)
Virtuosity at the IMDb
Rated: R
Directed by: Brett Leonard
Written by: Eric Bernt
Featuring: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe
Plot: A virtual-reality serial killer manages to escape into the real world.

Trailer:

Feature by Bradley Redder of This Week's Movie. Have a Secretly Awesome suggestion that you'd like to propose? Or have a past or present entry you'd like to argue about? Feel free to e-mail Brad at maxfischar@gmail.com.

Secretly Awesome - What Maisie Knew (2013)

Submitted by maxfischar on February 13, 2014 - 11:16pm


 

Normally I reserve this column for older, forgotten films, or those which I feel weren't given their due: great '90s thrillers, like Breakdown, to unexpected delights, like Young Sherlock Holmes. But the intention has always been to highlight films that deserve to be part of the conversation, but generally are not. Which is where What Maisie Knew comes in, which is easily one of the best films of 2013.

Secretly Awesome - The Ninth Gate (1999)

Submitted by maxfischar on January 25, 2014 - 4:46pm


 

Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate has it all. It's a globe-trotting supernatural thriller full of mystery, double-crosses, bad vibes, secret agendas, and sexy femme fatales. It's sort of what Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been, had it been R-rated and inspired by noir films from the 40s. It's maybe a little uneven, with an ending that lacks punch, but it's wildly eccentric, beautifully shot, and directed with wit, making it a blast to watch, despite whatever imperfections there might be.

I love movies that take as their subject an oddly specific hobby or profession and fashion it into a whole mysterious world of intrigue that surely cannot actually exist in reality. 

Secretly Awesome - Dark City (1998)

Submitted by tom on June 14, 2012 - 2:34pm


 

Secretly Awesome
Dark City
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Buy Dark City on Instant Video from Amazon

1998 was a quietly great year for movies. The modest, if not mediocre, Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture, and there weren't many films that really broke into the cultural consciousness, and it'd be difficult to find anything very iconic from that year. What it did give us was a handful of original, inspired, niche films that found small pockets of audiences that adore them. Alex Proyas' Dark City is such a film.

A spaced-out premise if there ever was one, Dark City is a sort of sci-fi neo-noir about a dying alien race trying to discover the secret to humanity. Each night they freeze time and through telekinesis morph the environment and implant random citizens with an engineered set of memories and observe how they act.

At once a brilliant piece of sci-fi, and a pulp detective story, Dark City has William Hurt trying to solve a murder case whose lead suspect, John Murdock (a great noirish moniker possessed by the vastly under-appreciated Rufus Sewell), has lost his grip on reality after waking up during a memory implant and begins to notice that something in his life is wrong. Proyas packs big ideas into his bizarre premise, and makes an impassioned plea for people to question reality, or at least their position in it. A recurring exchange in the film has John asking how to get to Shell Beach, a place advertised on every billboard, and where everyone has vivid childhood memories, and nobody can come up with an answer, nor do they seem disturbed by the idea. And Hurt's stoic, no-nonsense stock detective becomes truly interesting when he is essentially forced into investigating reality itself as he begins to unravel the mystery of John Murdock, and Proyas' approach to his absurd sci-fi premise begins to shape into something more than mere strangeness for its own sake.

With its brilliant premise, startling production design and a brilliant supporting cast that includes Jennifer Connolly as John's supposed unfaithful wife, and Keifer Sutherland as a timid, mousy doctor in charge of concocting memory serums, Dark City is the undiscovered gem you've been searching for at 2 a.m. on Netflix on sleepless nights. And though it does end with a standard, effects-laden telekinetic CGI battle, it banks enough quality along the way to disregard this well-intentioned misstep in favor of appreciating the ideas within it. Check it out... You will not regret it.

Dark City (1998)
Dark City at the IMDb
Rated: R
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer
Featuring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connelly
Plot: A man struggles with memories of his past, including a wife he cannot remember, in a nightmarish world with no sun and run by beings with telekinetic powers who seek the souls of humans.

Trailer:

Feature by Bradley Redder of This Week's Movie. Have a Secretly Awesome suggestion that you'd like to propose? Or have a past or present entry you'd like to argue about? Feel free to e-mail Brad at maxfischar@gmail.com.

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