I’m going to take the ‘making lists’ route in my blog for the time-being and see how it goes. Films are always a popular subject and lists of underrated films has been covered many times. So, for the 14 millionth time someone has done it, here’s my list of 5 random films (all Hollywood I’m afraid) that I think were or are underrated.

The Shadow (1994)
Give me this film over most of the Batman films (and I include the bloated Nolan examples) any day. The Shadow himself doesn’t necessarily make that appealing a hero. He has a brutal past, is rather creepy and one of his chief powers it seems is being able to make his nose grow. Alec Baldwin (who is very slim in this compared to his chunky frame these days) is a compelling actor though and  the film is pacy and visually inventive. It also looks sumptious, with good costume work and excellent period sets and locations. The film flopped fairly badly, ultimately making less in its full US run than Batman Forever made in its opening weekend the following year. Which is a travesty. Batman Forever is shit.

Hannibal
I’m in two minds about The Silence of the Lambs. I find much to admire in it but I also find it quite dull. I don’t much care for Anthony Hopkins’s unplaceable accent either. Thankfully it doesn’t reappear in the gorier, dafter and more entertaining sequel. There’s good support from tough but vulnerable Julianne Moore and the bloke who plays Mathis in the Daniel Craig James Bond films, and it’s left to an unrecognisable Gary Oldman to chew the scenery as a mutilated billionaire seeking revenge on Lecter. It’s beautifully shot and reasonably suspenseful. I gather the extremely unpleasant final scenes turned critics against it, but if Hannibal Lecter isn’t going to serve human brain from a living donor to his dinner guest then who is?

Star Trek – The Motion Picture
The 5 year old me would not put this in an underrated film list. The 5 year old me thought this the most boring film I’d ever seen at the cinema. The 5 year old me wanted constant space battles, laser guns, heroics and action, not a two hour existential trip undertaken by a crew of middle-aged men in wigs and corsets. As I’ve got older, grumpier and more sedentary the latter has become far more appealing. Robert Wise directed this with a lot of respect for the television series and its fans, as the reverence for the Enterprise in this scene demonstrates.  The film was a box-office hit but long, slow scenes like these alienated non-devotees in the audience and helped engender the view that the film was as boring as washing up cutlery. I don’t hold this view at all. Star Trek – The Motion Picture offers grand sequences and allows the viewer plenty of time to absorb them, which is far preferable to Michael Bay throwing 80 incomprehensible shots a  minute at his audiences.

Ghostbusters II
The summer of 1989 gave birth to the modern blockbuster. Unfortunately for Columbia Pictures, that modern blockbuster was Batman. Ghostbusters II was eagerly anticipated, opened big and was then trampled on by the dark knight the following weekend. The hype around Batman was exciting, and there’s much to commend in its design and visual-style but it isn’t a hugely enjoyable film. Ghostbusters II is comparatively unambitious but it’s witty and upbeat and features some enjoyable performances, notably from bit-part character actor specialist Peter MacNicol, who also features in my next, criminally underrated film…

Addams Family Values
American television has provided a rich bounty of shows for Hollywood to plunder for the big screen, mostly with heinous results (The Beverly Hillbillies) and occasionally with surprisingly good results (The Brady Bunch Movie is a minor gem). The Addams Family was released in late 1991 to fairly solid critical notices and very healthy box office returns and firmly falls into the good “tv to film translation” camp. 2 years later its sequel, Addams Family Values, opened to much reduced fanfare and significantly lower box office. Even a glowing review by Julie Burchill (ahem) didn’t save the film from rapid evaporation and the franchise limped on in dire television movies until dying a natural un-death. Frankly this was an undeserved epitaph for what was one of the finest American comedies of the 90s. It crackles with quick wit, one-liners and visual jokes. The wonderful regular cast are all on song and are joined by an unnvervingly sexy Joan Cusack, an amusingly nasal David Krumholtz and the brilliant duo of Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski as a pair of children’s camp co-ordinators with a pathological determination for their reluctant charges to ‘get involved’. It’s a joy from start to finish, and I wish someone would make an effort to produce a decent dvd of blu-ray release for it and its predecessor.

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