Love old or unusual movies but never know when they’re on? Here are several I recommend.
The Vigil (2019): I love “chamber” movies. Compact films with small casts and big talent can have quite an impact. That’s certainly true of this film, which respects its audience as much as it respects the mystical traditions it explores. The singularly talented Dave Davis plays a young man who is recently “off the derech,” meaning he’s exited the Orthodox Jewish community he grew up in. He needs money, though, so when his former rabbi taps him to spend the night in a house with a just-deceased man as a shomer (an official overnight vigil observer to guard the dead person from evil spirits), he says yes. Of course, you know there wouldn’t be a movie if this didn’t turn out to be a bad decision. The marvelous Lynn Cohen, in one of her last film roles, plays the extremely creepy and puzzling widow. Let’s just say our young man truly earns his $300 as his own demons — and perhaps some others — provide him with quite a bumpy night.
Now streaming on Hulu.
The Present (2020): There was a Palestinian nominee and an Israeli nominee in the live-action short film Oscar category this year. Both films were excellent. The Present, the Palestinian entry, is a simple but bracing tale about a father (Saleh Bakri) and his daughter (Mariam Basha) setting out in the West Bank to purchase a gift for Mom (Maryam Kanj). Sounds easy, right? Not when you have to go through checkpoints run by despotic guards. Director and co-screenwriter Farah Nabulsi take a tiny slice of life and reveal its exquisite human side.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Wolfwalkers (2020): I’m a huge fan of Cartoon Saloon, the Irish animation studio behind the wondrous The Secret of Kells (2009) and the moving The Breadwinner (2017). This film has a perfectly good setup: A father and daughter come to Ireland to hunt wolves that have been plaguing the populace. Things get complicated when the girl ventures into the woods and learns there’s more to the local wolves than meets the eye. Like many, you may enjoy the movie more than I did. It’s certainly ravishingly beautiful, like all of Cartoon Saloon’s work. I just found the character of the young girl to be annoying. Maybe I’m just an old grump.
Now streaming on Apple TV+.
Treasure Planet (2002): Animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker tried to pitch this movie to their bosses in the late 1980s, but they kept being shunted off before finally getting to tackle the adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel. It was worth the wait. The movie is gorgeous, technically impressive and is just a thoroughly rousing adventure. The voice cast includes Emma Thompson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, Roscoe Lee Browne and Martin Short. Sadly, the film bombed at the box office.
Now streaming on Disney+.
Trivia Question 900: How many times has Disney adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island into a movie?
Answer to Trivia Question 898: The character named “Harper” in the film of the same name is named “Archer” in the novels on which the film is based.