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Hidden Netflix Gems – Bringing Out the Dead

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Today’s entry is a hidden gem not only in the catalogue of Netflix, but also in that of beloved director Martin Scorsese, one of several underrated masterpieces so often overshadowed by more well-known ones like Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Along with films like The King of Comedy and After Hours, Scorsese’s 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead has been unjustly overlooked for the most part, and deserves more recognition than it has gotten. Sure, you could dismiss it as simply “Ambulance Driver” for its similarity to Scorsese’s breakthrough masterpiece, Taxi Driver, as well as the fact that both films were written by frequent collaborator Paul Schrader, but there is more to it than that. I’m certainly not saying it’s better than Taxi Driver, but it’s certainly different enough to warrant appraisal on its own merits.

The film follows three days in the life of constantly working New York City paramedic Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), who is so exhausted and depressed that he has begun to hallucinate. His most frequently recurring vision is of a young woman named Rose (Cynthia Roman), who he failed to save from a fatal overdose. Throughout the three days in which we witness his life, Frank is teamed with three different partners, each of whom seem to reflect different aspects of his personality and his viewpoint toward his job. Larry (John Goodman) does his best to not take his work home with him, looking at his work as simply a job by which he refuses to let himself be haunted. Marcus (Ving Rhames) is the polar opposite of Larry, a Christian who views his job as working the miracles of the lord, bringing the dead back to life. Tom Wolls (Tom Sizemore) represents pure, unchained id, a man who encourages Frank to release his own demons through naked aggression aimed at the patients he is meant to be helping.

Along the way, Frank saves an old man named Mr. Burke (Cullen Oliver Johnson), who is ultimately so far gone that he spends his recovery in an intensive care unit, repeatedly flatlining and being revived again. His former junkie daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette), forms a tenuous bond with Frank, and the two of them find some hope for redemption in each other, though without the expected romantic subplot that would have undoubtedly been exploited in a lesser film. Though Arquette’s performance feels oddly flat and this is not Scorsese’s best film, it is also far from his worst, which makes it vastly superior to the average movie. Bringing Out the Dead is a fascinating look at a profession that is oddly underrepresented in the movies, and the depths of the human soul that profession must regularly plumb.

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Movie news for a no longer new week

A few items of note…

* Back in 1939, Hollywood’s best-paid screenwriter, Preston Sturges, sold his screwball political satire, “The Great McGinty,” to Paramount for the grand sum of $10.00 on condition that he also be allowed to direct the movie. (I think he might have gotten a buck for the actual directing gig.) To this day, writers often take a pay cut for the privilege of becoming what Sturges used to call “a prince of the blood.”

Today, Mike Fleming reports that writer Dan Fogelman may be about to be paid in the neighborhood of $3 million to direct his first feature. “Imagine” is set to star Steve Carrell and will pair him with an older actor –presumably an aging superstar — who will be playing his extremely absentee rock musician dad who discovers a letter from John Lennon and decides to actually meet his now-middle-aged son for the first time.

lennon-rolls-royce-almeria

* My colleague Will Harris forwarded me a press release with some exciting news for serious movie fans and fans of serious movies. Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, still best known as the writer of “Taxi Driver,” but also a fascinating director in his own right with credits ranging from “American Gigolo” and “Cat People,” to “Mishima” and “Auto Focus” is poised to come back with “The Jesuit.” The deal for closed at the ongoing American Film Market, still underway in Santa Monica, and is set to star Willem Dafoe, Michelle Rodriguez, and Paz Vega. It’s a revenge film and, between that title and the Calvinist-raised Schrader’s well known inclinations from past films, you can hope for more than just a bit of spirituality meshing with the blood, guts, and sexuality. The Playlist has more.

* The Playlist also passes along the news that Christopher Doyle, an Australian-born cinematographer who made his name doing absolutely stunning work in Hong Kong for Wong Kai-Wai and others, is going to be making his first film in 3D. That should be interesting.

* From “True Blood” werewolf to Superman? Is it a Great Dane? Is it a lycanthrope? No, it’s Joe Manganiello.

* Hot on the heels of producing “Paranormal Activity 2″ and wrapping “Area 51″ the very shrewd Oren Peli is going back to the roots of American horror with a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe.

* Screenwriter John August responds to a less than intelligent quote attributed to Jessica Alba.

* No, Ahmet Zappa and Michael Wilson aren’t writing “Tiki Room: The Movie” but an Polynesian tale that was inspired by the Tiki Room. I don’t care, as long as the birds sing words and the flowers croon.

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