Anyone who loves a good slice of southern gothic murder mystery should check out Sam Raimi’s The Gift, one of several films in the eclectic scoundrel’s ouvre which made a departure from his usual brand of chaotic horror. Cate Blanchett stars as Annabelle, a single mother with a very perceptive telepathic ability, which in rural USA is greeted without any skepticism by the locals. She is renowned for her gift, and often approached by people in need. The story sees her trying to locate young Jessica (Katie Holmes), who has gone missing, and discovering some nasty secrets about the people around her in the process, people she thought she knew better. Jessica’s fiance (Greg Kinnear) is desperate but clearly knows something he’s not saying. Also involved is battered housewife Valerie (Hilary Swank), her terrifying abusive boyfriend Donnie (Keanu Reeves), a local mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) who befriends Annabelle, and others. It’s an ugly tale contrasted by Blanchett’s striking beauty, which the cameras capture in all the right instances. She could be rearranging a bookshelf and still be compelling and elegant, and always is in whichever role she takes on. Reeves is a scary tornado of pent up rage and sickness, cast way against type and loving every rage fuelled second. As if the main cast wasn’t packed enough with talent, we also get stellar work from Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Rosemary Harris, a random cameo from Danny Elfman and a sly turn from J.K. Simmons as the county sheriff. What a cast, eh? Raimi puts them to good use, and each one gets their moment to shine. I’ve never seen a film by the director I haven’t loved; the guy just makes super fun, accessible genre treats that are irresistibly likable. Pair that with the evocative southern tone and Blanchett’s winning presence and you’ve got one hell of a little package. Very overlooked stuff.
I’ve always been both fascinated and puzzled by Mystery Men. It’s essentially a titanic budget spent on a bunch of inane tomfoolery that makes sense neither as satire, straight up comedy, serious superhero fare or anything in between. And yet, it’s so much fun, coming out a complete winner despite any odds it dodges on the way. I bring it up because Suicide Squad is coming soon, and for whatever reason every trailer and bit of marketing for it so far reminds me of this one. Couldn’t even really say why, just something about the vibe and aesthetic of both films that seems distantly related. Could just be me being strange, which is the word in question for this one. It’s bizarre beyond belief, stylized to a point where Dr. Seuss would get dizzy and full of abstract, off the wall humour that requires you to coast along in the same delirium as the characters before you really get it. It takes place in Champion City, a cluttered metropolis that makes Gotham look like dullest suburbia. It’s a place populated by heinous, eccentric super villains, one legitimate superhero and a bunch of misfits who fancy themselves costumed crimefighters. When theatrical arch menace Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Wright proved to me that he could top Barbosa, no easy feat in my books) is booted from prison, he launches into his old ways, ransacking the city and bringing hero Captain Fantastic (Greg Kinnear), to his knees. It’s now up to a hilarious group of lovable buffoons to bring him and his minions down. You better sit down before I describe these guys, cuz they’re too good to be true. Ben Stiller is Mr. Furious, a dude who believes he can get so angry he has super strength… except..not. William H. Macy plays The Shoveler, who pretty much shovels. Janeane Garofalo is The Bowler, who carries a ball with the essence of her superhero dad trapped inside. Kel Mitchell is the Invisible Boy, who is only invisible when nobody is looking. My favourite by far is The Blue Raja (a scene stealing Hank Azaria), a turban wearing, plummy British accent spouting dude whose weapons of choice are forks, which he flings about the place like ninja stars. I could go on and on about every little quirk and stroke of genius, but I’d rather let you discover it all yourself, and immerse yourself in the giddy treasure chest that is this film. I must make mention of Tom Waits as a scientist who designs elaborate and “non lethal” weapons. Man, this movie rocks. Additional flair is provided by Lena Olin, Ned Bellamy, Claire Forlani, Paul Reubens, Wes Studi (whose character cuts guns in half with his mind and blurts out endless paradoxical platitudes) and Eddie Izzard. There’s a few hidden moments of emotion that take you off guard like easter eggs amongst the lunacy, for all you folks who want a side of seriousness with your buffoon burger. This isn’t everyone’s thing, but check ‘er out anyways, just to make sure. It’s one of my favourites.