Beer & Skittles: Hidden Gems & Classics of the Film Industry

Disclaimer: The content of this article is based on the writer’s personal opinion

The Avengers movie series, the Dark Knight trilogy or John Wick and its tetralogy casted with astounding martial artists have one thing in common; they’re films that became immensely popular upon release. There are many other examples of super hits, like Joker, that top charts instantly. They are showered with praises and glory globally, spawning in conversations that involve films. However, amongst the blockbuster hits, it’s inevitable that some hidden gems would be overshadowed by the audience. Hidden gems that might not show up on recommendations — that might require a bit more searching by the viewers. 

Be it from bad timing, due to another successful box office movie being released at the same time the hidden gem was, or at that current period, society simply wasn’t resonating with the movie then; many movies went under the radar and didn’t resurface until years later. Popularity for the movie suddenly inflates and its name is spread everywhere, receiving credit just years too late. Thus, it is Echo Media’s responsibility to list out these sleeper hits and put them back into the spotlight. 

Spoiler Alert

1. Vanilla Sky

A wealthy and influencing business man, David Aames is played by Tom Cruise who experiences a roller coaster of life events that led him to undergo perspective-taking about his life. A successful man who has everything he wants in his life, and has the means to get it, David is spoiled and privileged. He inherited a major company from his deceased parents, but he is too irresponsible and self-indulgent to focus on the company, and his womanising personality soon results in a terrible car accident that disfigures his face. When the woman who was driving the car dies, David is charged with manslaughter and starts to undergo a distorted version of his life where the border between reality and dream blurs. 

As American film critic Robert Ebert said, the movie ending serves more as ‘a mechanism of our confusion’, rather than directly laying out the actuality of the plot. Perhaps this was the reason critics found the movie too mind-boggling and indirect. Vanilla Sky attempted to leave behind the life David lived for a more emotional, abstract and truth-jabbing dreamscape world that could further depict David’s harsh, cold reality. It has the theme of a ‘waking dream’, and David was forced to learn that life isn’t handed on a silver platter so easily. There aren’t any second chances in life — we are not always the main characters in our life, and promises of love and connection could always lead to despair and loss. Throughout the movie, David goes from his contemporary disfigurement to flashbacks of his flawless, handsome face, indicating his struggles and inability to accept what has happened to his perfect life.

2. Equilibrium

Set in a dystopian world of order and peace, Equilibrium is about a future where showing any signs of emotions are illegal and could be subjected to lawful punishment. Thus, emotions are suppressed by having every citizen take daily psychoactive drug injections to avoid expressive articulation. When John Preston (Christian Bale) misses out a dose, he experiences emotions for the first time and becomes aware of his ethics in his actions as an enforcement officer, who was tasked to capture and execute every ‘sense offender’ he hunts down. Assisting a rebellion with a resistance movement, John began to genuinely fall in love with a captured sense offender, whilst trying to live his daily life unsuspectedly. 

Many responses to the movie were common in their saying that Equilibrium was simply a ‘reheated mishmash of other sci-fi movies’. It was said by Elvis Mitchell to be lacking in originality and a solid plot, that it nibbled parts of content from science fiction classics such as Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Brave New World. However, it’s undeniable that Equilibrium did well to send the message that ‘by disposing of humanity, we can save humanity’ is a ridiculous and naive worldview. It proves that the pain, struggle, loss and the negative aspects of the emotional spectrum are necessary to what we call living. Otherwise, it would just be what was seen in the movie, a dour and stale country that hosts empty vessels of human beings. Equilibrium had a descriptive narrative, absent of direct lectures to the camera about what was going on, and obviously, who can forget the painstakingly choreographed ‘gun-kata’ that was adapted by many actors in the movie. By combining martial arts and the handling of guns, Equilibrium helped introduce a new form of modern weapon fights that contributed as an  inspiration for megahit movies like John Wick.

3. Memoirs of a Geisha

A geisha is a female entertainer or hostess performing the arts of dancing and singing to her customers. This is the role that Zhang Ziyi plays as her character Chiyo Sakamoto in the movie. In a life of suffering under poverty, Chiyo’s family sold her to a geisha house to finance her family when she was a child. Chiyo trains for years to become the most celebrated geisha of high quality and influence, striving to prove her worth in the world. Through many hardships and sacrifices involving love and friendship, Memoirs of a Geisha showcases a world of challenges and trials forced upon pre and post World War II geishas. 

Mainly receiving negative reviews, Memoirs of a Geisha was stated as having a ‘simplistic air of soap opera’ due to the less attractive screenplay during the second half of the movie, because of how the plot loses its momentum. There were also minor complaints on the oversimplified explanations of some geisha traditions that were portrayed in the movie, thus leading to certain misconceptions amongst the audiences. However, this could all be overlooked thanks to the gorgeous cinematography — composing the movie from one appealing visual after another. Appropriate lighting combined with endearing scores by Steven Spielberg and John Williams set up the emotions that required more than the actors’ expressions to convey. Fraction of the backlash was about non-Japanese casting on a movie of Japanese topic, yet one of the lead actors Ken Watanabe defended by replying that talent should go beyond nationality. Ziyi, a Chinese, verified Watabe’s saying as her fragile, silk-shrouded presence under her rouge depicted the majority of the aspects of suffering as a young girl in past, prejudiced eras as an entertainer. Ziyi also effortlessly presented Chiyo’s hardened resolve and a brave attitude change in the film’s latter half. 

4. Citizen X

Based on a hauntingly true story, Citizen X takes us back in time to the 1980s in the Soviet Union, where a rogue serial killer quenches his thirst for blood by taking the lives of 52 women and children, boys and girls alike. Andrei Chikatilo, who was finally caught after 12 years of bloodshed, exercises his kinks on children he found alone in a train station, by first luring them to a secluded forest area, then sexually assaulting and killing them, not always necessarily in that order. Stephen Rea plays Viktor Burakov, a forensic specialist working with Colonel Fetisov, played by Donald Suntherland, on an eight year hunt for Andrei. Viktor faces a major obstacle when the Russian government constantly gets in his way, refusing to acknowledge the serial killer’s existence nor announcing the danger publicly to prevent a rampant panic, and a negative stain on the USSR’s image. 

Critics said the beginning of the movie was slow-paced, and certain events could have unfolded much earlier without the use of stalling with long dialogues and camera shots. Additionally, they claim some compelling elements that were significant to characters didn’t follow the ‘show, not tell’ technique. For example, Fetisov and the FBI in the US commended Viktor’s detective skills by simply saying it in description. Despite this, Stephen managed to relay a dramatic performance with his stony face and murmuring voice that exhibits Viktor’s nature of meticulousness and unyielding will — both characteristics of a good investigator. Donald nailed Fetisov perfectly too. As the film plays out, the cynical Fetisov progressively becomes confident in Viktor and aids Viktor behind the government’s back. Fetisov can be seen witnessing his own character development, along with his growing respect and admiration for Viktor that can be felt through the screen. Jeffrey Demunn also recreated the accurate image of a standard psychopath: mundane, evasive, and careful enough to not attract attention. Inspiring empathy rather than hatred, Jeffrey depicts the sad and ashamed real-life Andrei oppressed by everyone. 

5. Enough

Jennifer Lopez is Slim, who erroneously thought that marrying the man of her dreams will result in a happily ever after life. She has a daughter with rich and handsome Mitch Miller and had a few cheerful years together, until the point where she discovers Mitch was having an affair. But when she threatens to divorce him, Mitch beats her up brutally. Mitch taunts Slim, announcing he wouldn’t allow Slim to leave him and intends to keep her forever. Slim takes her daughter to escape Mitch, but Mitch relentlessly chases them down using his money and power to locate them. Fearing  for her daughter’s safety as well, Slim realises constantly fleeing isn’t an option and finally decides to fight back by practising Krav Maga self-defence moves to put an end to Mitch permanently. 

Both Rotten Tomatoes and, movie review and criticism websites, agreed that Enough was underwhelming due to illogical and unintelligent grappling of spousal abuse. The addition of weak character development of Slim’s daughter, ex, and biological father and their meaningless interactions contributed to ‘tacky material’, surprising Chicago Sun-Times because a director like Michael Apted and a Hollywood star like Jennifer Lopez was involved in the film. Even so, Slim embodies the perfect depiction of a forceful, streetwise woman who boldly moves towards change, said Stephen Holden of The New York Times. He continued with the movie’s preview, commending a sustained mood of a palpable, physical danger that confirmed Slim’s worst fears when Mitch revealed his true nature. Billy Campbell, playing Mitch, excelled in appearing psychologically unstable, showing signs of obsessive behaviour from the beginning of the movie. By taking advantage of Slim and their daughter needing him for their livelihood proved he was as bad as a menace could be, and convinces the audience to stay on the edge of their seat for the karma Mitch will receive. Accessible, ardent emotions of fear and rage portrayed by Jennifer fueled the end sequence where Slim and Mitch face off, making the scene visceral and influencing the audience to actually root for Slim to finish off Mitch. 

6. The Village

Seemingly in the 18th or 19th century, a small, undisturbed Pennsylvania village called Covington is surrounded by dense forests. Covington is safe for years owing to the elders making a pact with the monsters that live in the forests. As long as none leave the village and enter the forest, no harm will befell on the villagers. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) and blind Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), like everyone else, lived in fear of the monsters in the woods, but the death of a seven year old boy changed Lucius. When his request to venture outside for better medical supplies is denied, he goes anyway, but returns with only warnings from the monster. Lucius and Ivy admit their affections for each other, sparking enough jealousy and anger in Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) to stab Lucius. Ivy decides to journey outside the village like Lucius did to seek medicine for him, and discovers the secret of the village and the monsters. 

Roger Ebert was merciless in his lambasting, describing The Village as ‘a colossal miscalculation’ due to a feeble and transparent premise that the movie was unable to support, even going as far to name it the tenth worst film of 2004. Slate also offered an opinion that The Village was based on the cliche troupe of “sealed-off movies that fall apart when exposed to outside logic”. Other comments included a predictable and anticlimactic twist, which was unexpected of M.Night Shyamalan when pertaining to the signature endings in his movies. Though the movie had its flaws, they don’t determine it as a bad movie. Shyamalan’s assembly of scenes from tension to realisation build up the mood for terror was as exemplary as always. It wasn’t until the movie’s release much later that further positive comments came, adoring the casting, acting, cinematography, and also the use of the colours red and yellow to elevate distress in the environment. Misunderstood at the time of its release, the plot was also heavily rebuked by the media on account of mere mismarketing. The Village was advertised as a horror flick, when it was more of a mystery drama, and the hype for the monsters were building up throughout the movie, only to reveal otherwise. It didn’t help that Shyamalan’s three previous films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs) were such box office hits it hoisted impossible expectations for The Village

7. The Shawshank Redemption

Based on the 1982 novella by Stephen King, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is framed, and sentenced to life for the murder of his wife and her lover, in Shawshank State Penitentiary. There he meets Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman), and begins anew. Refusing to give in, Andy grows into an influential figure as a money launderer led by the warden over the course of two decades. Together with Red, they made their time in Shawshank worthwhile. Shawshank Redemption chronicles the experiences of Andy in Shawshank prison, brewing a tale of suffering and tolerating the hardest moments in life, because he unfailingly believes in the only motivation that gets him through everyday: hope.

Funnily, one problem that undermined Shawshank Redemption’s greatness was the title. Both Freeman and Robbins agreed that it was unmemorable, weakening the impression made on fans. Somehow, the lack of female characters which couldn’t broaden the audience demographics was also blamed for the low box office. Far out added that the environment in Shawshank was unrealistic and delusory. The inmates seemed too enlightened for a prison that’s supposed to be harsh and oppressive. Competition during the time of release was arguably the primary factor that dragged down the movie. If Pulp Fiction having a premiere on the exact same date wasn’t enough, Forrest Gump was also clashing, triumphing a 42-week theatrical run. Both movies would leave a mark in movie history, with box office earnings each of $108 million and $330 million respectively. Luckily, Warner Home Video gambled by shipping more than 320,000 copies throughout the U.S., reviving demand for the movie. Reaching the right audience now, Entertainment Weekly and New York Times complimented Freeman on Red’s genuinity, making him stronger than just a narrator or observer to Andy, and Freeman’s moving performance when evoking Red’s dependency on the prison. Owen Gleiberman said Robbins was able to bring out intensity and emotion even from a sombre and dispassionate character like Andy, portraying the transition from a new prisoner to an aged father figure. Impeccable acting of inner emotions, integrated with evocative wet, mossed cement walls filmed in saturated images, all pour in as the right ingredients for a pivotal movie. Shawshank Redemption is a cinematic analogy, to never abandon self-worth no matter how hopeless, presented to perfection by Andy in a prison, where integrity is non-existent. 

There you have it. A few of the golden many that were owed much notoriety when they were first introduced. Though it took some time, some movies taking weeks while others years, they were finally unveiled deep enough to merit further appreciation. Give these movies a try, and you might agree too, to throw them the roses they deserved long ago.

Written by: Ryan

Edited by: Poorani

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