Sometimes the biggest movies are popular because the actors are a hot commodity at the time. Other times, it’s the amount of money spent on promotion that pushes movies to the top. Every now and then, the biggest films even live up to the hype.The dynamics of Hollywood are too overwhelming to study here. But for whatever reason, lots of good movies fall through the pop culture cracks. This is a short list of deserving unknowns.
1. Point Blank: We’ll go back to 1967 for this one. Point Blank is full of long silences (by movie standards), and the viewer has to depend on his eyes to follow the story. The director does a fine job of drawing lines from visual landmark to landmark. Tough guys in films are a dime a dozen, but Marvin Lee’s “Walker” character is among the best. He and his best pal mastermind a heist, but after the money is in their hands, the friend betrays him–not only is Walker shot and left for dead, his girl disappears, too. The rest of the movie is about Walker following a bread crumb trail, as he searches for his personal Judas and the stolen money. Walker is the perfect name for this man, because he is always in motion. Carroll O’Connor, best known for his Archie Bunker role, shines in limited screen time.
2. They Live: Old-school wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper stars as drifter Nada in John Carpenter’s 1988 sci-fi movie, bringing his brawling, everyman mannerisms to the table. The story is about aliens who have taken over the world in a subtle and total way. The ETs use subliminals to control the majority human population, walking the world disguised as one of us. The aliens didn’t count on Nada, who accidentally hooks up with the human resistance and uncovers the horrible truth. Not to be missed is the fight scene between Nada and his pal Frank. This may be the most entertaining bare-knuckle throwdown in film history.
3. Wait Until Dark: Technically, this movie straddles the line between action and suspense. But sometimes, the anticipation is as exciting as the action itself. We are back in ’67 with Wait Until Dark, as Audrey Hepburn portrays a blind woman held captive in her own apartment by an intelligent criminal. Her husband has unwittingly acted as a drug courier, and the dealers are here to collect the package. The sadistic criminal, played by the excellent Alan Arkin, assumes the woman is helpless. He is wrong. Watch this at night, and turn out all the lights.
4. Gang Warz: Hip-hop artist Chino XL headlines here, with help from big names like Robert Vaughn and Coolio. This 2004 effort is definitely a straight-to-video selection, but accepted for what it is, the director’s vision is effective. A killer is released from a life sentence because of the corrupt policemen who arrested him, and he’s back for revenge. Chino’s Roe Connor is charged with stopping him, mostly because he is high up on the bad guy’s list. Connor is a Los Angeles detective who plays it cowboy-style; his choice of weapon is a six-shot revolver instead of the standard issue automatic. You don’t need a lot of bullets if you hit the target, and he seldom misses.
5. 7 Seconds: The prolific Wesley Snipes appears in this 2005 film as Tuliver, an ex-military living in Romania. Tuliver’s skills translate easily to the criminal life, so he leads his buddies in an armored truck robbery. But there is a caper inside of a caper. The thieves are double-crossed, the cops believe Tuliver has killed one of theirs, and a young sargeant is pulled into the wake of it all. At the center of the story is a Van Gogh that may or may not be an original; the painting quickly becomes the hottest object in Bucharest–something to die for. Toss in a few more-reckless-than-usual chase scenes and humorous gunplay, and you get a fun flick like this one.
Truly, this list of unorthodox action films are all fun. Sometimes we need more than the typical explosions, gunshots and car chases. These five movies approach from a different angle than most. You can find them in a number of places, including Netflix and Amazon on Demand. Get your popcorn.