Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies from the redbox Kiosks
Jesse Stone: No Remorse– This was my first Jesse Stone movie, and I’m happy to say it won’t be my last. On the downside, it means I have some catching up to do–this is the sixth TV adaptation from Robert Parker’s series of crime novels starring Tom Selleck as the writer’s morose, troubled sleuth. (Number seven, Innocents Lost, is on its way.) I used to be a big fan of Parker’s Spenser books and the solid TV series based on them (with Robert Urich and Avery Brooks), but I’d never gotten around to the Stone movies because they gave me something of a Murder She Wrote/Matlock vibe. Boy was I wrong. Sure, No Remorse is a no-frills, straight-forward, typical detective tale, but that’s exactly its appeal. (And it was Parker’s specialty–the author passed away early this year.) And Tom Selleck remains a wonderfully easy to watch actor–he’s never showy, always professional, but is also always engaging–especially when he plays characters a little more down and damaged and flat-out grouchy as Stone is. No Remorse centers on a stand-alone mystery (a serial killer seems to be on the loose) but it also picks up in the middle of several on-going story arcs revolving around Stone. (He’s been fired as the chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts, and his wife has left him.) Sure that means if you haven’t seen the other Selleck-Stone films, there are dangling plot lines and characters all about. (The cast is jam-packed with fine character actors such as Kathy Baker, William Devane, William Sadler, and Saul Rubinek.) But don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying the simple meat-and-potatoes pleasure of watching a well-told crime story unfold around well-crafted characters.
The Bannen Way–About as polar opposite a crime flick from Jesse Stone as you could concoct, The Brannen Way was originally a made-for-the-Internet webisode series–a major-studio synergy experiment to see what happens when you put a little cash and flash into a web series. What happens (as collected here seamlessly into a full-length film) is a pretty by-the-numbers Tarantino/Smoking Aces/Guy Ritchie/Oceans 11 mash-up, but that’s not all bad. It’s directed and co-written by Jesse Warren, and series co-writer Mark Gantt stars as Neal Bannen, your usual roguish, hard-luck thief in cool suits, but Gantt’s a likable stretch of sleazy, Christian-Slater charisma. Surrounded by Camera-Gone-Wild tricks and tongue-in-cheek attitude (including sassy call girls and sexy all-women assassin teams), Gantt helps anchor a familiar story: Bannen wants to go legit, but his mob debts wedge him between a cop father and crime-boss uncle. The Bannen Way is mostly slick, self-conscious surfaces and Cuisinart plotting–and at times the shift from irreverent hipness to the hard-boiled maudlin is jarring. But there are plenty of reliable familiar faces along the way (including Michael Ironside, Robert Forester, and Michael Lerner), and the higher production values keep it all entertaining enough if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing. But going forward with The Bannen Way as a calling card, Gantt and Warren’s next trick needs to be taking all this style and pouring it into a new, more unique thing.
Fame–This remake of Alan Parker’s 1980 film was born of a shameless attempt to ride out the dwindling American Idol/High School Musical crazes. So on the one hand it’s no tragedy it flailed at the box-office (where middle-aged fans of the original sneered and the teen target audience shrugged). On the other hand, Fame is a heck of a lot better than you might expect from all that commercial jazz. Yes, it’s teen-friendly PG-13 where Parker’s original was a gritty R, but director Kevin Tancharoen doesn’t sugarcoat things with bright lights and big smiles–there’s an engaging and relatively raw hand-held energy to the remake, especially in its first half as the young protagonists are dumped and left to paddle frantically in the tough, competitive school for the performing arts. (The second half slides more toward teen-romance melodrama, but the additions in the extended cut of the DVD tip the balance back toward the artistic struggles.) Fame ’09 is also a must-see for fans of Megan Mullally and Bebe Neuwirth–as world-weary teachers at the school, the two great Broadway (and sit-com) vets absolutely dazzle.
Chloe – Atom Egoyan’s career has always felt like hanging out in a ’60s art house theater. His latest, Chloe, hones close to the Canadian director’s usual cold-surface obsessions about emotional secrets (The Sweet Hereafter), erotic power games (Exotica), or both (Where the Truth Lies), though at times it strays directly into florid pulp territory (Fatal Attraction, only with prostitutes! Obsessed, but with bisexual experimentation!). Egoyan’s pedigree aside, what keeps Chloe from sliding off into just another late-night Skinemax erotic thriller is a truly top-notch cast of fine actors. Granted, as a professorial husband suspected of straying, Liam Neeson doesn’t have much to do here but act as a plot pivot point. But that’s fine–as his suspicious wife and the seductive hooker she hires to tempt him, Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried easily carry a film that’s content to sit back and let them do all the work. (Those used to Seyfried playing the big-eyed saint in films like Mamma Mia!, Dear John, and Letters to Juliet are in for a treat: here she’s all creepy poise and shark-like purpose.)
You can also check out Erika’s Chicks Who Rock-themed redbox Picks from last week.