Over / Under

As usual, this ToM will remain at the top of the page for the better part of the day. New stories will appear below!

Sorry folks - I'm not intro-ing a betting function here at Twitch but tackling another ToM, this one focused on films other folks love that I hate, and vice-versa - the classic overrated, underrated debate. We all have movies we just can't convince our friends to get behind, and we all have films we're maybe a little ashamed to admit we don't quite "get" or just can't stand. Here are six of mine - three each (of course there are plenty more, both ways). What are some of yours?

OVER

The Shining - this is the biggest head-scratcher for most people when I tell them I can't stand it. I can't stand it! Nothing. Freaking. Happens. Long, long, endlessly long shots of nothing. Every single performance, save for the great Melvin Van Peebles' mercifully understated work - skyrockets past the realm of over-the-top into gross histrionics. Was Kubrick trying to goof on the genre? Maybe. But by failing to modulate his actors' hyper work with his glacial aesthetic approach, any such underlying conceit was lost on yours truly. I've loved work by all involved elsewhere... just not this overcooked, over-loved turkey.

Solaris - I shared a great moment with my writing partner recently - we're in the process of hashing out a feature-length sci-fi script and were creating a list of films to re-visit for inspiration - when I mentioned Solaris he said, "I really don't like that film." "Hey, me neither!" I think it was the first time I had ever admitted it out loud - I've watched it twice and just can't derive any enjoyment. Soderbergh's stripped down version is more to my liking. I can't quite put my finger on what rubs me the wrong way with this title - maybe it really is about economy of storytelling in this case. It isn't Tarkovsky's style - I love Stalker - there's just something here I fail to connect with.

American Beauty - an easier target than the above two perhaps, but I'd be hard-pressed to believe anyone who's read Alan Ball's far-superior original script isn't completely outraged by the film Sam Mendes turned it into. Jaunting from saccharine to sarcastic with no regard for overall tone and cluttered with immature imagery, the picture is a complete stumble in the dark, drained of nearly all of Ball's original, biting wit. It's hard to fault the fact that the director seems to have real conviction here - and Mendes would go on to do stellar work in Road to Perdition - but Beauty rates as a manipulative, almost childish exercise in filmmaking that doesn't just lead its audience along, but yanks at its collar in case it has somehow missed the film's important points.

Man, it feels good to get those off my chest!

UNDER

Dead Again - it isn't that people necessarily hate this film - it's just that most I mention it to have no idea what it is. Filled with great performances from a quirky cast and impressive stylistic and narrative flourishes, Kenneth Branagh's modern spectral noir put him on the map for mainstream audiences... and his own grandiose ego quickly removed him thanks to a run of questionable choices like his turgid, vain re-imagining of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. While Branagh later found success translating a run of Shakespeare to the big screen, his earlier, most impressive work here has been all but forgotten. If you have concerns about what the guy who staged a full reading of Hamlet for the cameras will do to Thor, check this out. You'll be surprised what he holds up his sleeve.

Jacob's Ladder - maybe we've all been jaded by 10+ years of Shyamalyan - but it seems to me there's a backlash among modern audiences against this film that simply can't be accounted for. By far the best picture in Adrian Lyne's maddeningly uneven catalog, the fusing of the central conceit in Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" with the then-culturally nascent concept of post-traumatic stress - experienced by Vietnam vet Tim Robbins in a terrifically calculated performance - results in as vivid a celluloid nightmare yours truly has experienced. Perhaps people coming to the film today really have been jaded by one too many late-game twists to fully appreciate the horrific beauty of what Lyne created here. A shame.

Undisputed - I'm a sucker for both prison and boxing pics, and perpetually underrated genre maven Walter Hill not only manages to successfully combine both here, he coaxes some career-highlight work out of two consistently misused talents - Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. A bruising, foul-mouthed treatise on male pride and the zen of competition, Hill places his two gladiators in a corrupt penitentiary where mafia don Peter Falk (as great and craggy as ever) arranges a bout to end all bouts. Snipes, in particular, excels here. Always a better actor than he's been given credit for, he turns in strong, introspective work while taking the requisite physical pounding. Hill seems to only ever get so much love - but few filmmakers have been more consistent in delivering the goods over the last 30 years.

It was tougher to narrow the list to three here - so I focused on titles that haven't been featured in past ToMs (to my knowledge, anyway). Some difficult omissions included The Village, Big Trouble in Little China, Hulk, and First Blood.

What about you lot? What are some of your over / unders?

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