Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies in the Redbox Kiosks
It’s exactly the bland, wilting qualities that sometimes make Luke Wilson a less-than-compelling leading man (though I’ll always have Bottle Rocket love in my heart) that make him perfect here. Middle Men is the kinda-true story of “Jack Harris,” a milquetoast Texas family man whose entrepreneurial organizational skills get him caught up in a business venture that changed the Interwebs forever: a credit-card billing service that allows clients to discretely pay for stuff online. Namely porn. Wilson’s aw-shucks vanilla flavoring is an essential, relatable port in the midst of a porn-tastic storm of sex, drugs, Russian mobsters, Islamic terrorists, and especially Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht bouncing off the red-velvet walls as a couple skeevy, drug-stupid tech geniuses. With all that going on, Middle Men‘s jittery center doesn’t always hold, but it’s full of enough Goodfellas-style dark humor and prurient interest to make it a bunch of sleazy, Boogie Nights fun.
Some faith-based films go heavy on the syrupy platitudes, letting good moral intentions stand in for honest, compelling figures and conflicts. But Like Dandelion Dust keeps the pulpit-pounding to a minimum and offers realistic characters caught up in heart-rending issues that lack pat, easy answers. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, True Grit) is a recently released convict who wants to get back the young son his wife (Mira Sorvino) put up for adoption as an infant seven years earlier. Cole Hauser (Dazed and Confused, Pitch Black) and Kate Levering are the boy’s loving, caring adoptive parents who are understandably traumatized at the idea of giving him up, especially to a couple once torn apart by domestic violence. The acting is solid all around (especially Pepper) with much of the film’s gut-wrenching drama rooted in how easy it is to empathize with both sets of parents.
An emo-twee mash up of The Big Chill, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Dead Poets Society and Rachel Getting Married, this indie flick about a gang of upscale late-20-somethings gathering for a wedding (and of course hooking up left and right) slides by painlessly thanks to its diverse cast. At center are Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin as one-time college roommates now yearning for the same moody dreamboat, Josh Duhamel. (Paquin has the inside track–it’s her’s and Duhamel’s wedding going down.) Malin Ackerman and Adam Brody are also on hand, and Elijah Wood shows up just long enough for you to shout, “Who got Frodo wasted?!”
Advances in pop-culture serial-killer-ology move fast–the heavy handed psychological “insights” laid down in this slick, post-Silence of the Lambs road trip thriller from 1993 now ring a wee bit cliche and pretentious. But as directed by then newcomer Dominic Sena (who went on to helm Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish, and the recent Season of the Witch), Kalifornia oozes an entertaining spree-killer seediness. David Duchovny (on the cusp of Fox Mulder stardom) and Michelle Forbes just lay there as the jaded hipster “norms” in the car, but that’s okay. As their white-trash ride-alongs, young Brad Pitt (post-River Runs Through It, pre-Seven) and even younger Juliette Lewis (between Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers) chew up plenty enough scenery for all. Pitt especially has a ball with these goony roles–his murderous hick may lack nuance, but you can feel the actor’s magnetic enthusiasm. He and Lewis’ sexy sleaze keeps Kalifornia in “guilty, trashy pleasure” territory.
Don’t let the “Kristen Stewart Plays a Stripper-Whore” hook fool you–in fact this is an earnest (sometimes overly so) drama about a Louisiana couple (James Gandolfini and new Academy Award winner Melissa Leo) whose grief over the loss of their teenage daughter leads them to informally “adopt” Stewart’s New Orleans working-girl waif. There are times during the thoughtful Welcome to the Rileys you may wish things were a little more sordid and exploitative. But Leo, Stewart and especially Gandolfini fill their achingly authentic characters with quiet emotional nuance–the trio’s strong performances carry things along even when the film wanders.