Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies in the Redbox Kiosks
A fictional spin on the infamous 1971 Stanford Experiment, this thriller amounts to an intense “act-off” between Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker, as two men being paid to participate in a psychological test set in a prison–Brody’s pacifist as a prisoner, Whitaker’s momma’s boy as a guard. Naturally things quickly go Lord of the Flies on both sides of the bars. Whitaker is a little too quick to flip from milquetoast to power-mad “Crazy Forest Whitaker,” but Brody is always a treat with those sad, haunted eyes ever brooding inward. And the supporting cast includes good work from Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins Jr., and Ethan Cohn. The “savage animal kingdom” parallels get laid on thick, but the situational drama stays nice and tense.
Okay, this sequel to the 2007 surprise hit about fraternity “step teams” battling it out at a traditionally black college is not going to win any awards for writing or acting–the plot and characters are standard, hokey, and very familiar. But the cliche melodrama is adequately and inoffensively laid out (Collins Pennie from Fame and TV’s Hawthorne just wants to step! And hang on to his girl! And help out his dad, Keith David! And not get killed over gambling debts!), and best of all it doesn’t detract from the movie’s real draw: the mesmerizing, dazzling, exhilarating step-dance battles.
I remembered this 2003 thriller as a Fugitive knock-off by way of Rambo: First Blood, but a fresh viewing reveals a solid and gripping piece of work. Sure, Tommy Lee Jones is once again playing a lawman tracking down a killer, and like all good actors who garner acclaim, Benicio del Toro is shoehorned into an “action-flick” payday. But Jones’ character is far from infallible or invincible, and Del Toro’s always at his best in stoic silence. (Nice long stretches of the film are dialog-free.) Director William Friedkin may have seen his best days in the ’70s with The French Connection, The Exorcist, and Sorcerer, but he still has the cinematic grit and guts–and taste for violent tension–to make The Hunted a brutal and atmospheric cut above the usual.
One of the easiest “unknown” recommendations out right now–a lot of folks will be very pleasantly surprised if they give City Island a whirl. As I said in my review, “This family dramedy starring a gruff-but-lovable Andy Garcia has just enough safely passionate idiosyncrasies to hit the sweet-and-sassy spot… An indie film with a sitcom heart about a family full of quirky secrets, City Island may not surprise, but it’ll certainly put up a smile. This is a good, old-fashioned tale told well, about a family that’s amusingly dysfunctional, but not so much so they can’t come back together for a love-conquers-all hug at the end.”
I’m often baffled why some action films are hits while similar-but-superior efforts go unrewarded. Is it all just about “stars” and brand-name toy franchises? Well, The Losers sports plenty of tomorrow’s big stars, including Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, and most entertainingly, Chris Evans. As I wrote before, it “throws some sweat-soaked, tough-guy swagger and destruction at you for 90 minutes and keeps it moving too fast and funny for the cool clichés to stick… When so many sexy, brainless, video-game action films fail to get the job done, it’s nice to see one that meets it’s less-than-lofty aspirations with exploitative, explosive skill.”