Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies from the redbox Kiosks
Bright Star — I don’t want to badger anyone to watch Bright Star. This quiet, beautiful film about the poet John Keats’ final romance is too delicate to stand up to that sort aggressive push. But if you can gear your attention span down to a more thoughtful pace you’ll find yourself lost in its lovely grace. Plus, director Jane Campion wraps her ethereal, naturalistic vision around fine performances from Ben Whishaw as Keats, the terrific Abbie Cornish as his muse Fanny Brawne, and especially Paul Schneider as Keats’ boorish pal and protector. If you haven’t seen Bright Star yet, give its slow-flowering loveliness a chance. And if you’ve seen it once, it’s certainly the sort of rich cinema that rewards a second viewing.
In case you were worried that my recent feel-good reviews of Bandslam, How to Train Your Dragon, and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale meant I was getting soft and losing my taste for the edgy and sometimes uncomfortable or unpleasant, let the rest of this week’s Picks reassure you: I still like the silly and twisted. And a warning: From here on out most of these films are not going to be to everyone’s tastes.
St. Trinian’s School for Bad Girls – I’m not sure how best to defend this one. Something of a teen-trash sensation in Britain, this rowdy, bubble-gum-rebellion update of Ronald Searle’s ’40s cartoons (think the Addams Family in an English girls school) is shoddy and relentlessly “lite” crude in its PG-13 sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ rollism. But maybe it’s my incurable Anglophilia or my perverse joy at seeing talented actors like Rupert Everett and Colin Firth goofily, shamelessly camp it up to the high heavens. (Russell Brand, Stephen Fry, and Toby Jones are also on hand for the humiliation, while the girls are a who’s-who of up-and-comers: Talulah Riley from Pirate Radio, Julian’s daughter Juno Temple from Year One, Lily Cole from The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus, and Gemma Arterton from Quantum of Solace and Clash of the Titans.) But compared to the glut of banal, boring teen comedies here in the States, there’s something gleefully twisted-yet-comforting in St. Trinian’s pop-punk anarchy. (How many American teen comedies have running vodka jokes?) It’s far from good and sometimes stupid-funny, but for all its crassness, St. Trinian’s keeps up the grand British “Carry On” tradition of low-brow comedy with a dizzy and damaged spirit that’s oddly charming.
Carriers – Slipped in and out of theaters late last summer, Carriers built a steady supportive buzz all winter as a little post-Apocalyptic thriller with some modest-but-strong moves. It keeps its scope narrow, focusing on four young people on a road trip through an America ravished by a deadly infectious disease. Chris Pine–Star Trek‘s new Kirk–is the standout here: even in a very low-budget labor of grim love he shows star-material charisma and command. Piper Perabo and Law & Order: SVU‘s Christopher Meloni are also solid. Carriers is not a zombie film, not really a “horror” film, not a run-and-shoot action flick–instead it’s about justifiable paranoia and fading hope in a world where “they” (the invisible viruses) really are out to get you.
World’s Greatest Dad – I warned you earlier that World’s Greatest Dad, released on DVD around the same time as Old Dogs, is not–despite the title and the star–a warm-fuzzy all-ages romp. In fact, in telling the story of a failed writer-teacher and his deeply unlikable son, director Bobcat Goldthwait and star Robin Williams set out with indie vigor to subvert just about every “family movie” notion. This is a deadly R-rated black comedy that goes to some very dark places, but then–and this is what makes it so great–works its way back out again with genuine heart and even a bit of twisted uplift. It is not for everyone–by the halfway mark the film has gone out of its way to test the average viewer’s taste and tolerance. But Williams is back on his acting game, energized by a wallow in satiric pathos, and Goldthwait continues to prove he’s a smart, daring, but caring writer-director who, in pursuit of a sick joke or a thoughtful point, is willing to go places and say things others won’t.
The Last House on the Left– We’ve worked our way to the bottom–if I didn’t lose you with St. Trinian’s or World’s Greatest Dad, this may be where we part ways. The gruesome story of a family crossing paths with a gang of fugitives, this remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 schlock meditation on the very nature of exploitation is relentlessly violent and disturbing. Which is exactly its point. The rape, murders, vicious attacks, and torture in the film go deeper than just horror-film shock: as with Michael Hanke’s two versions of Funny Games, we’re challenged to think about what we’re watching, why we’re watching it, and what it’s saying to us. Likewise we’re forced to examine the dark side of human nature and the line between desperate defense and cruel vengeance. Though filmed with a stylish, muscular competence by director Dennis Iliadis and lifted by strong, gritty performances from Tony Goldwyn, Boston Legal‘s Monica Potter, and Deadwood‘s Garret Dillahunt, The Last House on the Left is intentionally hard to stomach. But the film makes its brutal points with a deadly effectiveness that doesn’t loosen its grip even after it’s ended.
You can also check out Erika’s redbox picks from last week.