Recommended Smaller, Overlooked, or Underrated Movies in the Redbox Kiosks
Directed by imagi-nut Michel Gondry (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) and scripted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express), The Green Hornet‘s an uneven ride, but there’s a good time to be had with it. The movie’s ’60s mod-pop style is goosed by Gondry’s snappy visual flair and carried along by the easy, bickering bromance between Rogen’s Britt Reed and Jay Chou’s Kato. As the baddie, Christoph Waltz once again has a ball delivering speeches with coiled tongue-in-cheek menace, and the near-deadly insertion of Cameron Diaz’s pointless love interest is balanced by the delights of the Hornet’s tricked-out ’65 Chrysler. But the big winner is Taiwanese singer Chou, who sulks and kicks with aw-shucks panache and low-key bravado in the Bruce Lee role. The Green Hornet‘s spinning top eventually goes wobbly, but any film that blasts both Jack White and Beethoven’s “Eroica” comes out ahead on my fun-cool meter.
It’s not a Jim Carrey wacky comedy. It’s a Jim Carrey wacky black comedy with lots and lots of gay sex. In prison. And it’s damn terrific. Soaked in R-rated ironic sunniness and energized with subversive glee, I Love You Phillip Morris is an outlandishly rude goof on the true story of Steven Russell (Carrey) and the love of his con-running, oft-incarcerated life, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). As Steven, Carrey is pale, thin, and manic, but there’s a much darker intensity behind his huckster drawl and ghoulish grin–this is the “comic” actor at his most deceptively razor-edged and yet his most sincere. The film happily abuses familiar rom-com tropes to show Steven and Phillip’s topsy-turvy epic romance and takes pot-shots at satiric mainstays such as the church and law-enforcement authority. But it also shifts gears and settings often enough to keep you guessing. I Love You Phillip Morris is out to offend, but it’s also becoming one of my favorite recent underrated films.
In this sharp-tongued take down of Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey’s righteous anger is palatable playing the infamous Washington lobbyist as a paragon of Republican zeal, narcissistic delusion, and good old-fashioned greedy thieving. The movie, directed by the late George Hickenlooper, feels more like a premium-cable biopic than a feature film as it tries to cram in details about the career of the flamboyant and grandiose “Casino Jack” (so named for his fleecing of several Indian tribes that hired him to help them get gaming rights). (If you want all the infuriating–and fascinating–facts, check out Alex Gibney’s exhaustive documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money.) But while Spacey’s white-hot passion sometimes unbalances his portrayal of Abramoff, there’s pleasure o’plenty to be had in watching him, Barry Pepper and Jon Lovitz chew through their sleaze-bag roles while the likes of Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and George W. Bush are drawn into Abramoff’s get-rich schemes.
Before Daniel Craig was Bond and before Matthew Vaughn directed Kick-Ass and the upcoming X-Men: First Class, the two teamed up for this British gangster morality tale about a stoic, high-class drug-dealer (Craig) looking to get out of the biz, but of course getting pulled back in for One Last Job. Vaughn learned his craft with his one-time producing partner Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Sherlock Holmes), and much of Ritchie’s cinematic swerve is here: flashy visuals, cool soundtracks, plots within plots, plenty of criminal violence, and heavily accented character actors (including Michael Gambon, Tom Hardy, Sally Hawkins, Colm Meaney, and a crazy sexy Sienna Miller). But Vaughn and the mesmerizingly cool Craig let Layer Cake breathe more than Ritchie’s hyper-kinetic films, giving it a richer, more elegiac soul.
I unapologetically like and laugh like an idiot at the Ernest movies. No, these aren’t lost comic masterpieces, but Jim Varney was a skilled practitioner of a classic Vaudeville style. Sure, he was broad and silly, pulling obvious faces and doing pratfalls, but he was also a clown who worked hard at his craft and it shows. His Ernest managed to be at once both the naive, innocent Laurel and the ambitious, know-it-all Hardy–he simultaneously embodied the flummoxed faux-authority of Moe, the childlike silliness and phobias of Curly, and the put-upon suffering of Larry. Packaged together, Camp is the better of the two–it was Varney’s first feature film as Ernest and his shtick feels fresh and eager. But Jail, the third film in the franchise, has plenty of goofy fun as well, including the addition of rubber-faced character actor Bill Byrge’s Bobby alongside rotund Ernest regular Gailard Sartain’s Chuck.