Hidden Gems: Amazon Prime
Rain Man (5 Stars)
Rain Man, released in 1988, showcases the apex of what quality acting can accomplish in the realm of cinema. The story follows Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise), a self-centered car dealer, who upon the passing of his estranged father, discovers the majority of his inheritance was left to Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman), Charlie's autistic brother that he never knew he had. Disgruntled over the surprising turn of events, Charlie kidnaps Raymond from his institute and they set off on a cross country expedition in a last ditch-effort to get his remaining inheritance. As time passes, Charlie's feelings towards his brother change, and the two begin to forge a bond. The basic premise is merely an excuse to get Cruise and Hoffman alone together. At this point, the viewer becomes privileged to an onslaught of comedic and tender moments, as well as an incredible degree of character development. Dustin Hoffman delivers the best work of his career, along with Cruise, who may not be operating at quite that level, but he's darn close. The contrast between the two central portrayals is riveting, as both open the movie consumed in their own worlds. Hoffman's Raymond is entrenched in his environment and routines due to his condition, while Cruise's Charlie is enveloped in his own narcissistic nature. Hoffman's commendation lies in his commitment to the role and remaining true to Raymond who is unable to grow all that much over the course of the journey. This contrasts beautifully with Cruise's performance, which demands praise for the natural growth he convincingly displays. Cruise layers Charlie with a blend of emotional complexity and suave charisma that serves as a foresight for his future mega stardom. The remainder of the film’s components, from director Barry Levinson's quiet creative guidance, to the solid soundtrack, to the complementary supporting players, all serve as formidable ancillary pieces that position the stars to shine. Overall, Rain Man is a classic throwback to an age of movie making that consisted of actors onscreen reciting lines and eliciting emotions on performance alone. Hoffman and Cruise are excelling in that structure here, uniting their acting chops to create what is unequivocally one of the greatest films ever made.
Short Term 12 (5 Stars)
Short Term 12, released in 2013, is the inaugural effort of writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton and his announcement to the world that he has stories demanding to be heard. This is a small-scale production, centering around Grace (Brie Larson), a staff supervisor for a residential treatment facility for at risk teens. The viewer is thrown into this very real environment, slowly learning about the children Grace works with and her day-to-day struggles. The screenplay superbly balances humor and drama, providing a personal story brimming with emotional complexity. Every character, be it the staff workers or the residents, has their own demons they must reckon with, and this is reflected with a plethora of fantastic performances. Brie Larson establishes herself right alongside Cretton as a new force in movies, carrying nearly every frame of the film with a layered portrayal of the central figure. Nothing about the performance is flashy; it’s simply true and honest. She is a person that could be come across in real life, just as everyone else in this movie is. John Gallagher Jr. is wonderful here as another staff worker, playing that nerdy, yet humorous guy who can be found amongst every group. Lakeith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever are equally compelling in their own right as neglected teens living within the facility. They go toe-to-toe with the likes of Larson and Gallagher Jr to create some deeply affecting scenes. Short Term 12 is an affectionate drama that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty to accurately convey the horrors of the real world, and the audience is rewarded for that bravery with an emotionally mature and thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience.
Terms of Endearment (4 Stars)
Terms of Endearment, released in 1983, represents the quintessential tearjerker. The story revolves around Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma (Debra Winger), a mother and daughter duo facing the hardships that life throws at them. This is a story that wraps the audience in with interesting characters that we come to really care about over the course of the film's 2 hour and 12 minute runtime. In addition to wonderful lead portrayals, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow all turn in excellent supporting work in various capacities that further strengthen the story as a whole. Writer/director James L. Brooks crafts an endearing story around these characters that is sure to evoke a spectrum of emotions over the course of this tale about life. It is certainly a quieter film that could come off a little slow, but the ending is well worth the time invested taking the journey with these people. In the end, Terms of Endearment is a sincere look at life through the lens of one of the most emotionally complex dynamics in the world, a mother and her daughter. It is a showcase of the highs and lows that accompany life and a must see for anyone in search of an honest, heartfelt movie.