A few hidden gems at the video store
As usual, there's not much of great interest in the local cinemas at this time of the year, so it's a good time to visit the video store. Here are some odds and ends I found recently:
All the Real Girls (2003). David Gordon Green may be the least-known great new American director. Given that he's now two for two, that situation should change. I wrote about his extraordinary debut, George Washington, awhile ago. That film examined the day-to-day lives of a group of African-American children in a small North Carolina town. Green returns to North Carolina for this new film, focusing on a specific relationship, the budding love of Paul (Paul Schneider) and Noel (Zooey Deschanel), which is complicated by the fact that Paul's best friend, Tip (Shea Whigham), is also Noel's brother. Green's films are very poetic -- he has been compared with Terrence Malick -- and the narrative drifts from scene to scene in a quiet slumber. Be sure to watch the deleted scenes on the DVD, including Danny McBride as a goofy sidekick known as Bust-Ass. McBride proves he is a natural-born clown on par with Jack Black.
Buffalo Soldiers (2001). No film in cinema history had worse timing. Buffalo Soldiers, an anti-military satire, premiered at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, and it was picked up for distribution by Miramax on Sept. 10. The next day everything changed, and the film was shelved for two years. Ironically, Buffalo Soldiers is a story about timing. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a Sgt. Bilkoesque private, who is stationed in Berlin at the time the Wall falls. Using the Army for his own private business enterprises, Phoenix has his clueless base commander (Ed Harris) sign requisitions for huge amounts of supplies, which he then sells on the black market. The arrival of a by-the-book sergeant (Scott Glenn) spells trouble. Buffalo Soldiers is an excellent film that fell victim to political correctness.
Lucky Numbers (2000). I kept passing this one up at the video store because of its awful reputation, but this black comic caper film turned out to be a pleasant surprise. John Travolta stars as a local TV weatherman whose snowmobile business is sinking. Deep in debt, he turns to illegal activities with the coaxing of a strip club owner, Tim Roth. Along with the blond bimbo lottery girl (Lisa Kudrow), they scheme to rig the Pennsylvania State Lottery, which is possible because the drawings take place on Travolta's TV station. Michael Moore makes a surprising appearance as Kudrow's nerdy asthmatic cousin. Nora Ephron, who is better known for romantic comedies (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle), directed.
Narc (2002). Director Joe Carnahan wanted to make a gritty cop film reminiscent of those from the '70s, most notably The French Connection. While Narc is nowhere in the same league as that William Friedkin classic, it is a noble effort and a definite improvement over Carnahan's awful indie debut, Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane. Jason Patric stars as an undercover narcotics officer with a troubled past who is assigned to investigate a cop's murder. Patric is teamed with Ray Liotta, a brutal hothead and a friend of the dead cop. Patric and Liotta deliver powerful performances. Carnahan remains true to his vision, but the film's resolution is a bit muddled.