Occasionally I dive into some of the odder titles in the recent redbox release catalog–those movies that just looking at their cover art or brief descriptions leaves you wondering, “What tha… heck is this?!” Well, here’s what they are. At least as far as I can tell:
One of the things that makes Zach Galifianakis such a great comedian and comic actor is that while he’s had plenty of mainstream success in the past couple years, he’s always worked hard to avoid the conventional. This also means that in the past he’s appeared in a lot of small, very “eccentric” and idiosyncratic film projects. And now that he’s Hangover-famous, distributors are digging out those often satirical indie films (like Frenemy) and re-marketing them. Take for example Visioneers, a 2008 dystopian satire that co-stars the great Judy Greer. It’s a super-low-key spin on the anti-corporate, anti-status-quo style of films like Brazil and it aims for the comedy of quiet desperation, rather than the comedy of “ha ha.” Galifianakis the Actor is strong here as an Everyman trying to eliminate his dreams in order to avoid literally exploding from stress, but don’t come expecting to see Zach the Funny Guy–he’s not around.
Much as the TV show Cougar Town has worked to shake the stigma of that misleading title, Cougars, Inc is not what you might expect. This stylish Risky Business riff, originally titled Mother’s Little Helper, does follow a student (The Haunting in Connecticut and Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Kyle Gallner) as he and his prep-school pals start up a gigolo service for unsatisfied older women (including Denise Richards and Cold Case‘s Kathryn Morris), but it’s not a cheap sex-com full of randy high jinks. (Okay, yes there are some sexy bits.) Instead, the coming-of-age film (which also features solid support from Jim Belushi and Modern Family‘s Sarah Hyland) is after a hipper, more indie vibe. It’s not a Less Than Zero (or Twelve) style downer by any means, but it plays a little sadder, wiser, and more alt-rock cynical than the usual American Pie knock-off.
A new Stone Cold Steve Austin action flick hits the home-video shelves every few months, so it’s understandable if you glance at Austin’s big bald dome on this boxing movie and think it’s just more of the same. It’s not. On the other hand, if you look at Knockout and think it’s a boxing twist on The Karate Kid formula, you’d be a lot closer to the mark. The movie’s story of a bullied new kid at school who finds self-worth (and a new father figure) while taking boxing lessons from the school janitor isn’t anything new, and Austin probably won’t be taking home acting awards any time soon, but Knockout has a stronger heart than you might expect, mostly thanks to a likable, engaging lead performance by Daniel Magder.
A while back I watched Rob Schneider in a bit part in a sleazy sex comedy, and based on a few oddly heartfelt scenes in the flick, I remarked there might be an interesting dramatic actor somewhere in there. It appears Schneider was thinking the same. As The Chosen One‘s writer, director and star, he goes for the heavier, more emotional life lessons in this uneven, but oddly sweet dramedy about a shallow loser stumbling into a quest for grace alongside some South American shamans. (Steve Buscemi does his Happy Madison pal a touching-humorous solid as Schneider’s grumpy Buddhist-monk brother.) The Chosen One‘s mix of comedy and philosophical drama doesn’t fully serve either cause (and Schneider the Semi-Serious Actor should work with a dramatic director other than himself), but I find myself admiring and rooting for this strange little film’s sincerity. Which only fuels my weird belief that Schneider might have a great performance somewhere in him.
The title and cover art of this college-set thriller seems to vaguely suggest some sort of Aryan Brotherhood, neo-Nazi-ness. Once again, that’s not it at all–instead this is a plot-twisted tale of a fraternity hazing prank (robbing a gas station for a few bucks) that doesn’t just go wrong, but continues to go more and more wrong at every turn. (The characters’ daisy chain of misfortune almost reaches the point of comedy.) It’s hard to feel very sorry for a bunch of asinine frat boys who keep digging themselves deeper with each attempt to cover up their bad behavior (and some scenes’ intended “intensity” goes nowhere), but first-time co-writer and director Will Canon keeps the screws tightening and his characters jumping. Best (and worth keeping an eye out for) is grown-up kid actor Trevor Morgan (The Sixth Sense, Jurassic Park III) whose lead role as the group’s Voice of Conscience shows some genuine Cusack-style chops.
Here’s what I can tell you: This peyote-tripping Western was originally called Blueberry and is based on a series of French graphic novels in the ’60s and ’70s from famous Heavy Metal writer-artist Jean “Mœbius” Giraud. And it stars Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Oceans 12), the always slightly insane Michael Madsen, and Juliette Lewis. As well as Eddie Izzard and Ernest Borgnine. And most of all, this film is completely, totally, enthrallingly bat-snot, bull-goose-loony nuts. Not so much a Tarantino-wannabe stylistic mania (like last year’s The Last Rites of Ransom Pride), but more of a mystical, existential, slo-mo wigginess that serves up Spaghetti Western grit and greed doused with vision quests, peyote rituals, and Native American dream lore. After watching it twice, and both times spending most of the time going, “What in the heck is going on?!” I can safely say I still have no idea–and that I’m kinda, sorta starting to like Renegade/Blueberry for exactly that reason.