Changing Lanes (2002, dir. Roger Michell) Changing Lanes is a bit more implausible than I remember, but I was still very impressed with this under-seen drama from 2002 starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. This was during the period where Affleck was being heavily mocked, which is too bad because his work here is really strong and understated. Samuel L. Jackson's performance in the movie serves as a reminder of what a great actor he can be when he's not on autopilot. In fact, every scene in this movie is buoyed by good acting. I love movies like this. Just look at some of the supporting cast: the late Sydney Pollack (who was the best actor ever at playing slimy men of status), Richard Jenkins, William Hurt, Dylan Baker and Amanda Peet (who has never been better in a movie). While a bit unpleasant at times (due to a premise where problems beget more problems for the two leads), Changing Lanes is still an entertaining, mid-level drama that is actually about something. I wish they made more movies like this today.
The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985; dir. Will Vinton) I watched this Will "California Raisins" Vinton claymation movie dozens of times in the late '80s, then not again until the other day. It meant a lot to me as a kid so naturally I was worried it wouldn't hold up. Even with my lingering nostalgia, it does.
The Adventures of Mark Twain is essentially a series of famous Mark Twain stories, animated and folded into a plot about Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher stowing away on an airship Twain has built for a suicide mission to intercept Halley's Comet. It's a weird movie. I don't know that it's for kids. For all its goofy characters and Twain-literate humor, there's a dark side—and I'm not even talking about the famous scene where the kids meet Satan. The film has an undercurrent of sadness. It deals honestly with themes of mortality and the loss of loved ones. I see it more as an adult than I did as a kid. I'm sure I was affected by the sequence where Adam and Even grow old together and she dies, but I wasn't married then. I had some idea of what death meant, but the power of Twain choosing the way he wants to leave the world went over my young head.
There aren't any other movies like this, clay animated or otherwise. It's clear Vinton and his team poured all their effort into every frame. Even if some of the character designs are rough, the detail and artistry in the sets and set-pieces is remarkable. It's a shame no one talks about this movie. For years I thought I'd never see it again. Now it's on Netflix. I get why some of you don't want to watch The Baby, but there's no excuse not to watch The Adventures of Mark Twain. It deserves to be seen.
Sunset Strip (2012, dir. Hans Fjellestad) This documentary centers around The Sunset Strip, the famous (and often debaucherous) mile-and-a half strip of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood, California. The film regales the viewer with tales of old Hollywood from the '30s through the '50's and then shows how clubs like The Whisky A Go Go became counter-culture hubs during the '60s. Finally, it shows the importance of the Sunset Strip on the stand-up comedy scene of the late '70s and '80s. It also features nearly everyone who was ever in a thing that you watched or listened to. Seriously, it has a ton of celebrities. Witness: Keanu Reeves driving The Strip on a Harley! Thrill to Johnny Depp (seemingly dressed as one of The Village People) discussing his ownership of The Viper Room and referencing Johnny Cash by his first name! Reminisce as Mickey Rourke recounts how Schwabs Pharmacy used to have an old-fashioned soda fountain that he loved. Seriously, I love this documentary; it's currently one of my favorite things. From the bad boys of the movies to the rock stars of legend, most of my heroes were born on The Strip; I loved it long before I ever actually set foot on it, and this documentary really shows why. Also, stay tuned for the closing credits, which are an animated who's who of Sunset Strip celebrities from Clark Gable to Charlie Chaplin.
Good Burger (1997, dir. Brian Robbins) Tired of all the Oscar hype? Check out this silly movie with its heart in the right place. Good Burger is simple, so you don't have to think. Good Burger features a crazy, method performance by Kel Mitchell. Good Burger has a plot that was later stolen wholesale by the makers of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Good Burger also features one of the funniest "punch lines" in the history of movies for young adults. Watch it now on Netflix Instant and "get the jump" on the upcoming Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release.
OK, I made that last one up.
A Company Man (2012, dir. Sang-yoon Lim) We mentioned this one on the Prestige podcast. Director Sang-yoon Lim also wrote this story about a quiet, polite, unassuming white collar office worker. We see him going about his day, mentoring a younger employee, drinking his coffee, and then it gets weird because he's a hitman, and the company he works for are guns for hire. He's perfectly content until an accident on a job forces him to take responsibility for his criminal actions, and makes him re-think his priorities.
(*Mom - You would probably like Adam Riske's recommendation best.)