Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies from the Redbox Kiosks
Nanny McPhee– With the sequel in theaters, it’s a fine time to revisit the original 2005 kids’ flick–one of those fun underdog movies that–like its anti-Poppins heroine–comes along and surprises everyone. Like most right-minded folks, I’m convinced Emma Thompson can do no wrong–here she’s not only marvelous as the Super-British Nanny taming a litter of unruly spawn, but also wrote the screenplay (based on Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda children’s books). Never hurts to have the always-terrific Colin Firth and Kelly McDonald on hand as well, not to mention Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton, and Derrek Jacobi. I’m also a big fan of the film’s brightly colored aesthetic–a saturated fairytale style also seen in films and shows like Babe, Penelope, and Pushing Daisies. But best of all is the film’s smarts and oh-so-British stiff upper lip about life’s unfair bits: “It’s rather sad, really, but there it is,” says Nanny McPhee with a stoic melancholy that is eventually swept away by the film’s giddily happy ending.
Ca$h–Believe it or not, we currently have two direct-to-video flicks called “Ca$h” in the redboxes. (Both even use the clever dollar-sign-for-an-”S” trick.) The first one is pretty routine “out-for-vengeance” action schlock, but this newer one, starring Sean Bean, Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, A Perfect Getaway, and the upcoming Thor and Red Dawn), and Victoria Profeta, has a surprisingly compelling edge. I’ll admit, many times I pop in one of these DTV films, and within a few minutes my attention wanders away from the bargain-basement shoddiness, never to return. Just the opposite happened with Ca$h–I found myself paying closer and closer attention to this tale of an innocent couple who stumble across the lost haul from a robbery, spend a lot of it, and then find themselves in trouble when one of the thieves’ brother (Bean) turns up wanting every last penny back. This is still a low-rent flick, with cheap production values and some lull spots, but while Bean seems weary and worn, it suits his once-suave character well–the actor slowly commands more and more of the screen. Likewise both Hemsworth and Profeta are simultaneously believable and entertaining as they get drawn deeper into Bean’s vicious games. Ca$h isn’t a great film (though it might have made a fantastic stage play) but thanks to the actors, it’s a very gripping threesome.
The Red Baron–I’ve been trying to catch up to this WWI action film all summer, but I suspected when I finally did it’d be a nondescript, DTV cheapie. Once again, I was wrong. Okay, half wrong. Following the true-life story of Germany’s famous ace, the film does play the scenes on the ground as the expected melodrama: meet and fall in love with a nurse, bemoan the horrific waste of war, resign yourself to your fate. And while Matthias Schweighöfer as Baron Manfred von Richthofen gives off aristocratic, Teutonic cool, he isn’t the most emotionally electrifying actor around. (Inglorious Basterds‘ Til Schweiger shines more brightly as Richthofen’s pal, while 300‘s Lena Headey is lovely as always, and Joseph Fiennes has a glorified cameo as the Red Baron’s respectful foe in a time when pilots still wanted to believe they were gentlemen fighting honorable duels.) But who cares about all that earthbound stuff? The real thrills are in the sky, and The Red Baron doesn’t skimp on the dazzling, visually spectacular dog fights–there’s a rich, three-dimensional dynamism and ambitious scope to the air battles that is frankly more viscerally involving than most any air-war film to date. Those stunning combat scenes make The Red Baron absolutely worth a look.
Big Fan – Yesterday Jawawaxer raised a good question on my Greenberg review: How does Greenberg (the very darkly comic tale of a miserable social misfit who, as played by Ben Stiller, is done in by his all-consuming, self-loathing narcissism) compare to Big Fan (the very darkly comic tale of a miserable social misfit who, as played by Patton Oswalt, is done in by his all-consuming love for the New York Football Giants). (Big Fan was already on my mind this week, as the new Lisbeth Salander, actress Rooney Mara, is the niece of Giants owner John Mara.) I like both films equally even if, surface and tonal similarities aside, they’re about two very different kinds of “losers.” And while Stiller may be the bigger star, at least in Big Fan Oswalt might be the better actor–his character of Paul resonates deeper than just “crazy football fan with misplaced priorities.” There’s a rich and heavy denial about the seedy emptiness of Paul’s life, and yet there’s also something very likable and recognizable in in the guy–he just wants to be happy in the life he’s carefully narrowed down around him. That said life rises and falls on the fortunes of an NFL football team is sad, but also all-too-familiar to anyone with any sort of obsession.
Burning Bright – Okay, maybe “Pick” is too strong a word for this competent-but-unremarkable thriller about a woman (Sorority Row‘s Briana Evigan) who’s trapped in her home with her young autistic brother during a hurricane. Oh, and there’s a frickin’ vicious, hungry tiger loose in the house! (As seemingly silly as that premise might be, there’s actually a long explanation for how and why the big cat ended up in her home, and no it doesn’t involve either Siegfried or Roy.) Greg Evigan’s daughter is proving herself a decent enough scream queen, and her older villainous step brother is played by the talented Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, Winter’s Bone). (Plus there’s even a Movies that Sing tie in: Meat Loaf shows up briefly!) The film is pretty standard (mostly gore-free) fare, although launching the DVD menu does force you to hear Evigan recite the Blake poem that gives the flick its title–exposure to Blake’s poetic genius is always a good thing. But most of all I’m including Burning Bright this week just so I can say this: “I have HAD it with this monkey-fighting tiger in my Monday-to-Friday house!”
You can also check out my Picks from last week.