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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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Box Office Preview: Nothing to See Here

Snow White and the Huntsman

Who throws a cupcake, honestly? On a similar note, who would think combining Snow White with high fantasy and action/adventure is a good idea, honestly? Why, Universal Pictures, that’s who. We’ve got them to thank for the atrocious “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Coming soon to a theater near you!

I just can’t wrap my head around it, it seems like they’re actually trying to make a terrible movie. What separates good fantasy, stuff like “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings,” from the alarmingly awful majority of the genre is the subversion of cliches like the ultimate battle of good versus evil. When it comes to “Game of Thrones,” believe me, I should know. Especially given how much of my life I spend writing about it. Yet the tagline for “Snow White” is “Evil meets Destiny,” it’s right there in the trailer. I feel I should add this isn’t just me being grumpy either, the film’s at a 46 percent on the Tomatometer.

The movie’s about… Come on, what do you think it’s about? It’s Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the queen. Old queenie gets her panties in a bunch when her talking mirror tells her Snow White may one day be the fairest of them all.

The only difference between this and the Disney version is the queen sends a Huntsman (played by Chris Hemsworth) to capture Snow White. Seriously Hemsworth, if I wasn’t still feeling my “Avengers” contact high I might not be able to forgive you for this. Oh, and there’s battles and actiony stuff too, which always makes for a better film. Just ask “Battleship.”

Piranha 3DD

I didn’t think it was possible for me to be less excited about a movie than “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Then I watched the trailer for “Piranha 3DD.” I think I may have strained whatever muscles are responsible for dry heaving. Did you know the extra “D” in the title is meant to indicate this a sequel? Because I didn’t. I suppose it’s also a boob joke. Don’t blame the messenger, this is high-brow stuff folks. Summing this one up on my own might induce actual vomitus. To spare myself the trouble I’ll let the three of you interested peruse the official synopsis:

After the terror unleashed on Lake Victoria in Piranha 3D, the pre-historic school of blood thirsty piranhas are back. This time, no one is safe from the flesh eating fish as they sink their razor sharp teeth into the visitors of summer’s best attraction, The Big Wet Water Park.

Just copy and pasting that hurt. Anyway, “Piranha 3DD” stars a bunch of young no names, along with people like Ving Rhames, David Hasselhoff, and Gary Busey. To this I say fine, get your money while there’s money to be got. But then I read that Christopher Lloyd is in the picture and my face looked something like this. That’s right, the man who played Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” and Taber in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is dragging his name through the mud with this garbage. Alright, in his defense the original’s been certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. But “Pirahna 3DD’s” rating on the Tomatometer stands at a measly 12 percent.

Avoid this film like the plague, or, you know, a pre-historic school of blood thirsty piranhas.

Battlefield America

Did I say I was unexcited about “Pirahna 3DD” because “Battlefield America” has brought me to depths of disinterest I never thought possible. The synopsis calls it “A steady look at the underbelly of the youth battle dance culture in Long Beach, California.” The underbelly of youth dance culture? Seriously? Even if that didn’t sound ridiculous how many dance off movies can there possibly be? And now we’ve got to involve children?

Apparently “Battlefield America” is director Chris Stokes’ follow-up to 2004′s “You Got Served.” Since when do movies as universally disliked as “You Got Served” (16 on the Tomatometer) get follow-ups? Well, for a while now. I suppose a better question is why these movies get follow-ups, sequels, or anything of the sort. Well, money. Always money.

Please don’t make me talk about this movie anymore, it’s killing me. If you’re going to the theater this weekend see “The Avengers” or “Men in Black III.” Better yet, see Wes Anderson’sMoonrise Kingdom” if you have the opportunity. Please don’t waste your time or money on these new releases.

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Trailer time: “Operation Endgame”

Like I said, it’s been a slow day for movie news, give or take Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio perhaps someday maybe if they really feel like it getting together a movie which sounds like it might be okay. Indeed, what appears to be today’s most circulated trailer is for a straight to video film with what everyone agrees is a really terrible title.

Still, it’s not just any straight to video movie with a wonderfully weird cast that includes Rob Corddry, Ellen Barkin, Zach Galifianakis, Emilie de Ravin, Maggie Q, Beth Grant, Bob Oedenkirk, Michael Hitchcock, Ving Rhames, and Jeffrey Tambor. It’s also not just any straight to video movie that has a trailer that makes me laugh as many times as this spy-action-black comedy-thriller does.

A word of warning for those of you at work or near kiddies, this Red Band is no joke. It contains in, the wise words of Pajiba, “a fuckload of swearing.”

And, for those of you who’d prefer a f*ckload of excised curse words instead, here’s the green band trailer via HuffPo, which feels a bit more violent to me for some reason. It’s also a who lot less funny without the curse words, which may be one of the film’s commercial problems.

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Give ‘Em Hell Malone

Director Russell Mulcahy may be responsible for bringing the “Highlander” franchise to the big screen, but he’s fallen pretty far since working with the likes of Sean Connery. After a long stint in the music video business and some terrible sequels to other film franchises like “Resident Evil” and “The Scorpion King,” Mulcahy’s career doesn’t show any signs of improving with his latest B-movie, “Give ‘Em Hell Malone.” Thomas Jane stars as the title character, a hardboiled detective type who finds himself in hot water with the local mob boss after he fails to turn over the case he was hired to retrieve. What’s inside the case, you ask? You don’t want to know, but it’s pretty stupid considering all the crap that Malone has to go through to keep it safe. At the top of that list are the bad guys hired to take him down. Ving Rhames looks annoyed he agreed to even appear in the film, while Doug Hutchison goes a little too far over the top as a sadistic arsonist who calls himself – wait for it – Matchstick. (Did they just use a random villain name generator for that one?) Not even Jane seems completely up for it, and he’s starred in movies far worse than this, because although it’s a fun nod to the pulp noir genre, “Give ‘Em Hell Malone” is every bit deserving of being dumped direct to DVD.

Click to buy “Give ‘Em Hell Malone”

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Gospel According to Al Green

Al Green’s angelically seductive voice is unequaled in R&B, and perhaps all of popular music, and the hits he made with legendary producer Willie Mitchell include some of the most evocative songwriting of the early seventies. He might have reached the same heights of mass acclaim as such R&B contemporaries as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson were it not for a disturbing incident in which an obsessed girlfriend badly scalded him with boiling grits and then committed suicide. Within a few years, the singer became the Reverend Al Green, bought his own church, and for a time abandoned secular pop music entirely.

This fascinating 1984 documentary details the period in which Green became a deliberately obscure figure, allowing the singer to tell his own story in addition to performing some astonishingly good gospel and also preaching at his Memphis Full Gospel Tabernacle. He even deigns to break his own no-secular-music rule and performs a transcendent version of his love song supreme, “Let’s Stay Together” – a performance strong enough to almost make us forget “Pulp Fiction” and that bandage on the back of Ving Rhames neck. Director Robert Mugge’s film captures Green at his musical best – still only in his late thirties and absolutely at the top of his game. A must for fans of both classic soul and gospel music, “Gospel According to Al Green” reveals a conflicted, slightly eccentric, but always utterly sincere performer, while presenting an awe-inspiring reminder of the musical and emotional power of the African-American church.

Click to buy “Gospel According to Al Green”

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