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Secretly Awesome

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
Buy Virtuosity on DVD from Amazon

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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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.

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.

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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