Secretly Awesome

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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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.


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

Secretly Awesome - Never Been Kissed (1999)

Submitted by tom on May 30, 2012 - 3:08pm


Yes, THAT Never Been Kissed. I've been watching an unusually high number of romantic comedies lately after settling for a few on a flight home from England a few months ago because, even though the screen is only four inches, I still refused to watch anything I cared about in full screen. So rom-coms it was and, for some reason, still is.

Never Been Kissed has Drew Barrymore playing a shy reporter who has, get this, Never Been Kissed. Looking for an interesting story that other papers won't have, the Chicago Sun-Times sends Barrymore's character, Josie, back to high school undercover to find an interesting story, and she finds herself just an insecure in school at twenty-five as she did when she was sixteen. And she's just as much an outsider too, until her cool deadbeat older brother somehow manages to also go back to school and become a star on the baseball team and spread word that Josie is cool.

Secretly Awesome
Never Been Kissed
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It's kind of a throw-away plot, but it certainly helps that the film is funny. It's one of those late-90s high school comedies that captures enough of the atmosphere of high school to be honest, yet exaggerates it enough to be ridiculous. And there enough silly details to laugh at, like one guy's determination to make "rufus" a new buzz word among the students, and then hearing people say it casually in the background throughout the film. It also features a bizarre supporting cast, from Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly at Josie's office to a small part from James Franco at school.

Now, Never Been Kissed isn't particularly well made, and it doesn't showcase any brilliant writing; it's actually very standard and formulaic, but it is absolutely brimming with charm and likability which, in the end, is all a good romantic comedy needs to have. And on second thought, maybe it is very well-made, because despite having a premise that is so inherently creepy, so overwhelmingly inappropriate, yet I still find myself rooting for everything to happen. Back in school, Josie gets a crush on a boy and secures his affections, as well as those of one of her teachers, who is unaware that she is not a student. Objectively speaking, both of these dynamics are awkward and wrong, and rather than address that fact in any way, the film just carries on in pure nonchalance. And why not? I was completely on board. Even realizing how potentially disturbing it was, I wanted her to finally get the chance to make out with the cool kid. And even though a teacher crushing hard on his student is sleazy, I couldn't help but override that feeling with the thought that they are totally perfect for each other. I even thought that after the most absurdly creepy line I can recall hearing in a movie... Josie reveals her true age and intent the prom, and her admiring teacher finds out her editor wanted her to write about teachers preying on students, he storms out, and after Josie apologizes, he says "I can't even look at you in the same way!" I was simultaneously stunned by the audacity of the implication that he was only turned on by her as a sixteen year old in his class, and crushed by the narrative turn that they might not end up together.

Maybe it's that I think this premise is a fantasy that everyone has, to get a second chance at high school; maybe it's Barrymore's lovably innocent performance; maybe it's the alcohol I consumed while watching it, or maybe it's that I think it's amazing that such profound lapses is social responsibility could be so completely and so successfully glossed over by sweetness and charm, but I say Never Been Kissed has the goods, and when Josie writes her story about having Never Been Kissed and asks her teacher to meet her on the pitcher's mound before the school's championship game, I bet you'll want him to show up as much as I did... Or maybe I've just been watching too many of these.

Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed at the IMDb
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Raja Gosnell
Written by: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
Featuring: Drew Barrymore, David Arquette and Michael Vartan
Plot: A journalist enrolls in her old highschool as part of her research for a story.


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

Secretly Awesome - Observe and Report (2009)

Submitted by tom on May 16, 2012 - 5:07pm


Hey! Remember me? I'm really sorry for completely disappearing for the last four months. I had a few things going on in January that kept me busy, and then when I tried to write something, it had been too long and I was out of the cycle and couldn't finish anything I started. But I just started a new blog with a friend of mine that demands constant updates, so I'm back in writing mode, and can send you new stuff on probably a weekly basis, if you still want it. Here's a Secretly Awesome for Observe and Report.

I think it's safe to say that I've never seen a movie quite like Jody Hill's Observe and Report. It is such a unique experience with a sense of humor all its own, and it's really unfortunate that it came and went with little attention back in Spring 2009. I remembered liking it a lot then, but after revisiting it recently, I'd say it's nothing short of brilliant.

Secretly Awesome
Observe and Report
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Seth Rogan plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall cop with dreams of becoming a real cop. He feels he is granted an opportunity to prove himself when a man begins terrorizing the female patrons by flashing them. Writer/director Jody Hill turns an absurd plot into a gritty and often shockingly violent film, and he somehow manages to infuse every bit of it with humor.

On the surface, the film seems vulgar and crude, begging for easy laughs with creative obscenities, but the real humor is often very subtle. Observe and Report is a bit of a rarity in contemporary comedy in that most of its humor is derived not from traditional jokes, but from its characters and their relation to the situation. Its laughs are so effective because it doesn't feel like it's trying to be funny, so it often sneaks up on you, slipping little things in at unexpected times. Hill shows a remarkable level of trust in the audience to get its sense of humor, often presenting something funny without calling any attention to it. It had me bursting out laughing when I thought I was supposed to be taking it seriously at times, and at others I was taking it seriously when I expected to be laughing. It might sound like Hill doesn't know which tone to settle on, but it is actually the most level-headed film I've seen in a while. Hill has complete control over this material, and often achieves both serious and comedic tones in the same scene.

Observe and Report plays like a comedic riff on Taxi Driver, not so much in plot, but in its approach. It is ultra first-person, and this brilliantly subject point of view allows for some oddly sweet moments in the middle of its darkest, most vulgar scenes. Hill shows incredible reserve, never letting us look down on Ronnie as silly or pathetic; instead we get things from his perspective, and some truly ridiculous moments are treated with genuine sincerity, like when Ronnie dresses up for a date and his mother reassures him that he looks good wearing zipper pants, a hideous sweater, and a gold chain. His reply is, "Yeah... this is a pretty cool outfit." We can't help but laugh at the absurdity of it, yet his confidence in himself is oddly touching. Another scene has his alcoholic mother falling out of a chair and passing out on her knees with her face on the floor, and rather than mover her or carry her to bed, Ronnie simply smiles, puts a blanket over her, and kisses the back of her head.

This gracefully maudlin inappropriateness is punctuated by twisted violent fantasies that are as hilarious as they disturbing, and make Observe and Report one of the most surprising, strange, and undeniably hilarious films I can think of. And with Michael Peña, Ray Liotta, and Anna Faris in equally absurd, over-the-top supporting performances, this is easily one of the most underrated film comedies of the last decade.

Observe and Report (2009)
Observe and Report at the IMDb
Rated: R
Directed by: Jody Hill
Written by: Jody Hill
Featuring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris and Ray Liotta
Plot: Bi-polar mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt is called into action to stop a flasher from turning shopper's paradise into his personal peep show. But when Barnhardt can't bring the culprit to justice, a surly police detective, is recruited to close the case.


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

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