Discover more from Feature Presentation
Cut the Cord: Great Ensembles
May 2022. Volume 1, Issue 5.
A bit of a shorter list this month, thanks to quite a number of films leaving our most reliable streaming services. Kanopy and Hoopla are not nearly as bad as Netflix and HBO when it comes to movies leaving their service, but it does happen. As a result, I have to pivot to make sure the information in this newsletter is accurate for at least that month. That’s why I’ve given myself until the 5th of every month to check and double check that titles are still around.
This month’s theme is great ensembles. We love our movie stars in starring roles, but there’s something so special about great actors getting to work with great actors. In really meaty pieces, you’ll see that some of their best performances throughout their careers come when they have someone to play with. You’ll see that with folks like Jack Nicholson, Ethan Hawke, and Nicole Kidman below.
Great casts also means great directors and great casting directors. You’ll see those below as well.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
‘We come in peace’ is not what those green men from Mars mean when they invade our planet, armed with irresistible weapons and a cruel sense of humor. This star studded cast must play victim to the alien’s fun and games in this comedy homage to science fiction films of the ’50s and ’60s.
In true 1950s fashion, Mars Attacks! is like the difference between a malt and a milkshake. Milkshakes are great, (I will always choose a milkshake over regular ice cream unless the waffle cone is calling my name) but malts have that little extra something. Mars Attacks! has the little extra something.
Simultaneously a loving homage and undeniable parody of 50s sci-fi blasters, Tim Burton's ack-ack-ack aliens decapitate Pierce Brosnan, switch the bodies of Sarah Jessica Parker and her chihuahua, and annihilate Michael J. Fox before lasering the whole world. It feels like a blank check project (this was Burton's return to Warner Bros. after his Batman movies), but when you find out that WB's budget came in at $200 million less than Burton was anticipating and he had to cut so much of the script - you have to wonder what the hell this could have been. This movie has Jim Brown dressed as a Vegas casino Pharaoh, Jack Nicholson playing dual roles, and Tom Jones singing "It's Not Unusual" before fighting back. What more could you ask for?
The Overnight (2015)
Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte, and Max. A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.
From the director of Creep, this movie is...bizarre. I don’t want to spoil anything at all, so instead I will leave you with this: The film stars Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche, Jason Schwartzman, and a very good friend of Jason Schwartzman.
At the beginning of a nightly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Jim seems particularly troubled. His sponsor encourages him to talk that night, the first time in seven months, so he does - and leaves the meeting right after. As Jim wanders the night, searching for some solace in his old stomping grounds, bars and parks where he bought drugs, the meeting goes on, and we hear the stories of survivors and addicts.
A powerful ensemble piece that not only addresses addiction, but also loss, grief, community, religion, acceptance, self-guidance, and societal expectations. All through the vehicle of some really amazing performances.
With an expertly-assembled ensemble, everyone gets a chance to make their mark in this picture. Richard Lewis’ first dramatic role follows him as an alcoholic losing control in a desperate performance. Early performances from Sam Rockwell, Calista Flockhart, and Parker Posey signify great actors on the rise. And how about Oscar winners Faye Dunaway and Dianne Wiest?
If that’s not enough for you, try a fresh-off Pulp Fiction Amanda Plummer, Kevin Corrigan showing up to do what he does best, and Howard Rollins in one of his last performances.
Still not enough? Spalding Gray, LisaGay Hamilton, and character actors Julie Halston and Zach Grenier are just a few more.
I really didn’t want any of these write-ups to just be listing an amazing cast, but come on, this cast (and casting director!) deserve the shoutout. This is a movie I know you haven’t seen. You need to fix that.
Juliet, Naked (2018)
Annie is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan – an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, its discovery leads to a life-changing encounter with the elusive rocker himself.
This movie is perfectly functional, but the real charm here is the cast. And I think it's a trio that doesn't get their due.
Chris O'Dowd really had a moment there for a few years. He largely served as a supporting character for those bigger films and does the same thing here, as his character is there mainly to setup the romance. Most asshole boyfriend characters are one-dimensional and basically just that, the asshole. But O'Dowd's natural charm and shabbiness brings his character a bit more life.
I have no idea why Rose Byrne is not a lot more famous than she is. Perhaps she doesn't want to be, but fame clearly does not equal talent in this business as she's supremely underrated. It might have something to do with her tendencies to work in genre pictures (horrors like Insidious or comedies like Bridesmaids), but this simple romance gives her some space to shine. It's pretty hard not to fall in love with her. You can see the boys' dilemmas.
And finally, Ethan Hawke. I'm a big fan of his work and I think he's another actor who doesn't get enough credit. He's definitely the most recognized of the cast, but he never seems above anyone else. I think many of his performances give the aura of an actor who likes to work. He works hard with any script, whether that be with auteurs like Paul Schrader or Richard Linklater, direct-to-video action pumps, or simple little easygoings like this one.
Mystery Team (2009)
A group of former Encyclopedia Brown-style child-detectives struggle to solve an adult mystery.
The following appeared previously appeared in my article, Staff Picks: Meddling Kids.
Before he became Troy on Community or created Atlanta or won Grammys as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover was a part of the sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy.
Derrick Comedy hopped on the YouTube train early, posting their scripted comedy sketches to the site and gaining some traction there. (I’ve watched the Jerry sketch approximately 700 times.) When it came time to make their debut film, they found the perfect vehicle for their personalities and personas as likable dummies.
Mystery Team follows some kids who never really grew up from their meddling kids roots. Master of Disguise Jason really just wears Groucho Marx glasses, Boy Genius Duncan memorized some fun facts, and Strong Man Charlie, well, isn’t really that strong. When it’s time for them to solve a real crime, in this case, a double homicide, they’re obviously in way over their heads. Comedy ensues.
If you’re familiar with Derrick Comedy or any of the Community-esque shows, you’ll appreciate the humor. There’s one scene that finds them in a strip club that’s a particular goldmine for this premise. If you like these folks (or people like Parks and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, or SNL’s Bobby Moynihan) — then this is a must. They’re all early in their careers and eager to make this movie and that excitedness comes across so perfectly for these characters.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Dr. Steven Murphy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who presides over a spotless household with his wife and two children. Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin, a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in gradually unsettling ways.
Barry Keoghan is haunting in a break-out performance.
Colin Farrell is hypnotizing.
Nicole Kidman? Well, she made this movie, Eyes Wide Shut, and Dogville, and somehow her AMC Commercial is still the weirdest thing she’s ever done.
All joking aside, nothing can prepare you for this movie. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a knack for casting charismatic people in ice-cold roles. You get the best of that here. If you’re looking for great performances in a well-cast film (I would imagine you are if you’ve read this far), it doesn't get much better than this.
Plus, there’s surprise Alicia Silverstone.
There’s more coming next month. Until then, share with your friends.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.