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Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

TV Party

TV Party
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TV Party is a Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third. 

Dominick’s Pick

Grizzly Man

grizzly man Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

For a film that many know anecdotally as “the doc about that guy who gets eaten by bears,” Grizzly Man is both a lot less lurid and a lot more nuanced than its reputation might suggest. Yes, in 2003, Timothy Treadwell was mauled to death by one of the grizzlies that the misguided but passionate nature enthusiast had befriended over the course of numerous trips to Katmai National Park in Alaska. Werner Herzog is a perfect match for Treadwell’s story; not only has much of his documentary work over the years focused alternately on the simultaneous beauty and brutality of nature and the struggles of Quixotic idealists, but Treadwell’s story is one that needs an eye that’s empathetic and unforgiving in equal measures.

Grizzly Man feels for Treadwell, to be sure (Herzog famously asked that the audio recording of his fatal encounter be destroyed, though it ultimately wasn’t), but doesn’t shy away from the madness of his pursuit. Herzog understands well that nature cannot be tamed and sees man’s obsession with conquering it as equal parts hubris and delusion. Treadwell truly loved the animals that eventually proved to be his undoing, but it was a love born out of the desire to conquer. Grizzly Man chronicles him as both an idealist and a madman, and in this it’s a truly honest portrait of impossible pursuit. It really does take a certain kind of man to chase the elusive and impossible, after all.

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Justin’s Pick

The Edge

the edge Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

Did Harold Perrineau draw the short stick when it came time for billing for The Edge? If he was featured in any marketing for the film, I certainly don’t remember his presence, and I remember a lot of the scenes and dialogue that came out of the trailer (VO: “Alec Baldwin”, Baldwin: “You sit there, and you glow. You make me sick!” Hopkins: “I’m sure I do.”). Perrineau plays Stephen, who survives a plane crash along with Bob the photographer (Baldwin) and Charles the millionaire (Hopkins), but the movie is marketed as a two-man show.

Again, the good news is that they survive the plane crash, but now they have to put up with a giant Kodiak bear. The Boy Scouts don’t truly prepare you for Kodiak bear encounters, and if you tell me rolling up in a ball does the trick, I’ll let you try it first. Long story short, there’s tension between Bob and Charles long before the plane crashes, mainly due to the fact that Charles believes Bob is having an affair with his wife (Elle Macpherson). Will they survive? Is Bob really that much of a jerk? Check out how they’re livin’ on The Edge.

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Michael’s Pick

Into the Wild

into the wild Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

Sean Penn. Emile Hirsch. Eddie Vedder. Those three ingredients make up the 2007 adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book, Into the Wild. The story captures the ill-fated adventures of the late Christopher McCandless (Hirsch), who traveled off the grid across America in the early ’90s after graduating from Emory University. Whether he’s working with a grain elevator in South Dakota or camping out alone on the Stampede Trail in Alaska, the young man attempts to enlighten himself outside the traditional confines of society.

Some might balk at McCandless for his actions, even calling him stubborn. But what’s fascinating about both the novel and Penn’s gorgeous adaptation is seeing how much of America we actually ignore. We really do live in a beautiful country, and although Vedder’s sensational folksy score elevates the scenery, these places are simply our backyard. Of course, there’s also a tragic lesson by the end of the film, insisting that such tranquility comes at a high price. What’s more, humanity, despite our hideous efforts, belongs together.

Virtually ignored in 2008’s Oscar season — outside of an apt nomination for the ever-exceptional Hal Holbrook — Into the Wild captures an emotionally charged journey that not only hits the heart but the eyes. Penn’s direction is vivid and patient, framing portraits that wouldn’t be out of place in The Best of National Geographic. While Hirsch loses himself in a role that too many critics tragically forgot about. The last 45 seconds of his performance justify the entire film’s 148 minutes.

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Leah’s Pick

Troop Beverly Hills

troop beverly hills Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

Everybody has that one film that they have to watch every time they see it pop up on television, and Troop Beverly Hills is mine. Although the campy comedy starring Shelley Long, Craig T. Nelson, and a young Jenny Lewis came out in theatres when I was just five months old, it has enjoyed a steady run on cable from the ‘90s to present day – I know many a millennial girl, myself included, who can quote every line – and 25 years later, my love springs eternal.

Long plays Phyllis Neffler, a shopaholic socialite with insane outfits who volunteers to lead her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop (kind of like Girl Scouts, but more hardcore) while also in the throes of separation from her rich and insensitive husband, Freddy the Muffler Man. Doesn’t this sound like so much fun already?

The laughs come from the twist of the rich kids being the fish out of water, and from Long’s winning performance as a perky, hopelessly naïve oddball who holds her first campout at the Beverly Hills Hotel and tailors her dowdy uniform, much to the chagrin of the other troop leaders, into a fabulous dress suit with matching cape.

Yes, Phyllis is spoiled, high maintenance, and a bit superficial at times, but she also is kind, generous, creative, confident, and resilient — a good mother, leader, and friend. And over the course of the film, we see her grow and mature to prove to her girls, her husband, and, most of all, to herself, that she is more than just a Beverly Hills Barbie with a “black belt in shopping,” although she does know how to use that skillset to her advantage. And really, what’s so wrong with that?

Despite being slammed by critics upon its release, this flamboyant little gem from Revenge of the Nerds director Jeff Kanew has achieved something of a cult status among 20- to 30-year-olds, and mostly women, who now look back on the film as our Mighty Ducks. You see, our team, Troop Beverly Hills, starts out as the loser squad that everybody makes fun of and nobody believes can actually win the climactic wildness tournament. But after learning how to work together, help each other, play to their strengths, and, at long last, believe in themselves, the underdogs come out on top.

To quote Rosa, “Patches? We don’t need no stinkin’ patches!” And that’s the big takeaway from Troop Beverly Hills: that no matter what people say about you, or how much they judge you for how you choose to express yourself, it is okay to be whoever it is that you are, embrace whatever it is that you are passionate about, and wear that weirdo patch with pride.

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netflix Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

Adriane’s Pick

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

aguirre Five Essential Survival Films Worth Exploring

It’s a land that God, if He exists, has created in anger. It’s the only land where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at what’s around us, there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.” —Werner Herzog, discussing the jungle in Burden of Dreams

Werner Herzog has always had a, let’s say, complicated relationship with nature. The theme of man versus his environment comes up time and again in his work, from Fitzcarraldo to Grizzly Man. But he portrays this ages-old conflict most provocatively and beautifully in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the story of a group of Spanish conquistadores traveling through the Amazon jungle in search of the lost city of El Dorado. Even though they’re led by the take-no-shit Aguirre (Klaus Kinski at his manic, bulgy-eyed best), the conquistadores don’t stand a chance against the savagery of their surroundings. Rushing rapids topple their rafts, famine and heat drive their horses mad, and native tribes — themselves an extension of the natural world — pelt them with arrows from every direction.

Eventually, the expedition gets whittled down to one survivor: Aguirre. In the film’s iconic final scene, our hero lurches around a sinking raft, sidestepping the corpses of his crew members. As he continues to feverishly plot the next move in his conquest, dozens of small, shrieking monkeys begin climbing aboard the raft. It’s one of those completely absurd moments that viewers have come to expect in a Herzog movie, one where the futility of Aguirre’s situation is apparent to everyone except him. No amount of gumption or armor or Spanish wealth is going to best this untameable landscape. Nature: 1, Empire Building: 0.

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