Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies New this Week in the Redbox Kiosks
$5 a Day – I’ve written before about how even “indie” films sometimes fall into their own cliches, especially the “quirky but heartwarming” kind. And this little road lark from British director Nigel Cole will certainly feel familiar: an estranged father and son who are both small-time grifters, a terminal illness, a road trip full of old memories and amusing petty scams, a dysfunctional (and law-breaking) family dynamic that ends up working in an odd way, and so on. But the comedy $5 a Day has at least two things working in its favor. First, there’s an idiosyncratic sweetness in its jaunty, con-man heart, and second it has Christopher Walken. Playing an older man who refuses to give up the grift, this is the off-beat actor at his most lovable–in fact you could almost say he’s doing an impression of Christopher Walken, complete with dancing, mugging, that sly Walken smile, and yes that slightly crazed twinkle in his eye. The result doesn’t feel like a rip-off, but rather a Greatest Hits album. Alessandro Nivola anchors things nicely as Walken’s skeptical son, and Sharon Stone and Amanda Peet are on hand as well. But it’s definitely The Walken Show, and that makes it well worth the price of admission.
The Square — You need to gear your “excitement” motor down a few notches for this well-done Australian film noir–its dark rhythm (and even darker, grainy cinematography) doesn’t offer up a lot of slam-bang sexy sizzle. In fact, The Square is a quiet film with the bare minimum of dialog. But brothers Josh (director) and Joel (co-writer) Edgerton have crafted a grim little tale of adultery and an “easy” crime gone wrong that nicely hearkens back to classic noir: there’s an affair between two neighbors, a “foolproof” plan to grab some cash, one mistake leads to another, and every error has to be buried alongside more bodies. (No doubt the Edgerton Brothers would gladly welcome comparisons to the Coen Brothers and their first feature, Blood Simple.) As things get worse for its protagonists, the film draws you in not with flashy dialog or big twists, but by simply sinking deeper into that murkiest, most unknown of swamps: the greedy, desperate human heart. (For example, one of my favorite bits of creepiness that give the film its foreboding, mysterious undertone: What exactly did happen to the dog?)
Batman: Under the Red Hood – For the past couple years, Warner Animation and DC Comics have been putting out these super-hero films based on recent acclaimed comic-book stories about some of their most popular characters. Recent entries in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series include Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, both still in the redboxes. The fact is, the average comic-book geek is getting older, so these well-crafted, action-packed movies are an attempt to both please mid-aged fans who will be familiar with the original comic-book stories being loosely adapted, and to attract younger viewers to the characters. But be warned–while not as dark and grim as the live-action Dark Knight, Under the Red Hood is geared toward a teen or older audience and has a harder edge than the kid-friendly animated Batman series from the ’90s.
The tale adapted here by writer Judd Winick is from two Batman stories: 1988′s A Death in the Family and Winick’s own Under the Hood in 2005. It deals with a flashback to the the murder of the “second” Robin, Jason Todd, and the arrival in Gotham of the new Red Hood, a morally ambiguous vigilante/crime lord. If none of that made sense to you, if you don’t know all about Ra’s al Ghul and his Lazarus Pits, didn’t know the Joker was originally a two-bit tuxedoed thief called the Red Hood, and didn’t know there even was a “second Robin” (the comics are now on their fourth), don’t worry; the movie’s fairly self-contained and gives you all the back-story you need. (Leaving out the fact that Todd was originally killed off when readers infamously voted to snuff him in a call-in poll.) Like most of these DC Universe films, the emphasis is more on action than story-telling and character development, but the visuals (echoing Nolan’s film Gotham) are well done and the voice work includes fine efforts from Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing, aka Dick Grayson, the first Robin), Jason Isaacs (Ra’s al Ghul), Supernatural‘s Jensen Ackles (Red Hood), and Futurama‘s Bender, John Di Maggio, playing the Joker much closer to Ledger’s brutal, growling sociopath than the happy-go-wacky madman Mark Hamill voiced in the ’90s TV series.
Survival of the Dead – A few years back, when the zombie craze shuffled back to undead life in theaters, all the new film makers all made sure to give rightful due to the Master, George Romero. The lucrative new wave of walking dead naturally meant that Romero himself was soon back behind the camera to add titles to his classic “Dead” canon (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead). Like many living legends (*cough*Lucas*cough*), Romero might have been better off leaving his legend alone–2005′s Land of the Dead was a decent enough hoot, 2007′s Diary of the Dead a total misfire, and now the sixth in the series, Survival of the Dead lands somewhere between the two. Romero’s style, themes, and sense of gory humor are frankly a little dated and corny, but still respect must be paid. Survival of the Dead, like any good zombie film, is more about how the living deal, than how best to dismember a zombie–though 70-year-old Romero still has a teenager’s glee when it comes to blowing up undead noggins. This time, a handful of soldiers find themselves on an Irish-American island off Delaware (yeah, I don’t understand, either…) where two rival families have differing opinions about how to handle the zombie plague. The result is no zombie masterpiece either by Romero’s original standards or those of the neo-zombie renaissance. But for all his old-school shambling, Romero’s steady story-telling elevates him above the lesser hacks–and while his tricks may not be new, they still offer a few gory, silly delights.
You can also check out my Picks from last week.