Recommended Smaller, Overlooked or Underrated Movies in the Redbox Kiosks
Michael Sheen continues to play British Prime Minister Tony Blair for screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) in their third such collaboration (including The Queen). The Special Relationship follows Blair’s mid-’90s rise to power in tandem with his political guru Bill Clinton (a smirking, charming but also battered and weary Dennis Quaid). Sheen is terrific as always as the earnestly ambitious Blair in this, a film about people and politics that understands you can’t have one without the other. The Special Relationship ends with bitter ironic foreshadowing as we see Blair gladly betting his new-found leadership capital on new U.S President-buddy George W. Bush–let’s hope Morgan and Sheen plan to eventually explore on film that tragic relationship as well.
Last summer I finally caught up to the Jesse Stone TV movies with Tom Selleck as the late Robert Parker’s grumbling police chief–a disgruntled, melancholy drinker who finds it much easier to chase down and solve mysteries than deal with his own demons. 2006′s Night Passage is the second in what is now a six-movie series (a seventh is out next month), but it’s a prequel and so a perfect place to get introduced to Stone and Paradise, the small Massachusetts town he washes up in after being fired from the LA force (for drinking). The Stone movies are solidly pleasing, full of character and meat-and-potatoes-style mystery storytelling. Most of all, Selleck is tremendous at playing Jesse’s laconic dissatisfaction with its mix of wry, self-loathing humor and morose cynicism. If you haven’t seen a Jesse Stone mystery, treat yourself–and if like me you’ve only caught the more recent installments, go back and see how it all started.
An R-rated quirkfest aimed at fans of fringe comedy, Backwash is part of Sony/Crackle’s new series of webisode movies (previous entries included The Bannen Way and Woke Up Dead). Written by and starring The West Wing‘s Joshua Malina and directed by Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle‘s Danny Leiner, Backwash also features Michael Ian Black and Michael Pane rounding out an old-timey trio of Marx Bros.-style fools on the lam. That may make Backwash sound a lot more conventional than it is–in fact, it’s comedy of the archly silly and absurd. Most hilariously, each of the 13 sections is hosted by a different “star” of varied luminance, including Jon Hamm, Sarah Silverman, Fred Willard and Jeffery Ross. Backwash is not for everyone’s comedic tastes, and like sardines in mustard, it takes a few “chapters” to get used to. But if smartly stupid is your thing, there’s some loopy, disjointed funny going on here.
Documentary-maker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud) takes on a huge load of issues in this, his examination of why the American public education system is broken and how it might be fixed. Like most any documentary, Waiting for “Superman” is sometimes melodramatic and emotionally manipulative, deftly mixing in various families’ personal tales alongside the opinions of educational experts. But that doesn’t make its points about the crisis any less powerful, urgent or angering–in fact Davis’ greatest (and most heartbreaking) achievement is to clearly lay out the infuriatingly basic problems in our schools as well as the equally basic (and infuriating) roadblocks preventing them being solved. As a former high-school teacher I’m aware Waiting for “Superman” may over-simplify some issues to give its call to action more punch, but I’m also aware of how badly that call is needed.
Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie get all post-Silence of the Lambs in this standard-but-enjoyable crime thriller about a gruesome serial-killer investigation. (As opposed to the sweet and fluffy serial-killer investigations.) Based on Jeffery Deaver’s novel and directed by Philip Noyce (Salt), the story and its telling aren’t anything new (what may have been all morbid and creepy in 1999 is probably not lurid enough to get on CSI today), but Washington and Jolie make The Bone Collector a pleasingly grim bit of dark police-procedural entertainment. Playing the quadriplegic former detective Lincoln Rhyme, Denzel nicely end runs around his “leading-man” persona, and as Rhyme’s rookie apprentice, Jolie shows off her budding star qualities. (With Girl, Interrupted’s Oscar and Lara Croft still in the near future, Angelina was not yet “Angelina!” in 1999.)