Recommended Smaller, Overlooked, or Underrated Movies in the Redbox Kiosks
There’s something steady and reassuring about a Jason Statham action film. The actor himself is always easy to watch, with that cool, calm British reserve that could be interrupted any moment with a burst of elegant violence. The Statham appeal is enough to carry along a run-of-the-mill flick like this remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson B-movie about an assassin who takes stoic pride in his professional craft. But The Mechanic gets an extra boost from the always-mesmerizing Ben Foster as a troubled, tightly wired young man looking to learn the trade. Statham’s stern soccer-hooligan bullet head is a good counterbalance to Foster’s twitchy little possum eyes, and locked in a tense dance of mutual distrust, they make this meat-and-potatoes flick entertain more than it normally might.
Based on Ayelet Waldman’s 2006 novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, The Other Woman is a prickly but compelling drama about a woman (Natalie Portman) struggling to make a new marriage work while dealing with husband Scott Cohen’s first wife (a fantastically hateful Lisa Kudrow), his precocious son (Charlie Tahan of Charlie St. Cloud, Burning Bright), the social stigma of being the “younger second wife,” and the painful loss of the couple’s own child together–an infant who died of SIDS. Between the troubling subject matter, the recent glut of Natalie Portman movies, and the infamy (in some circles) of “bad mom” Waldman, director Don (The Opposite of Sex) Roos’ film didn’t get seen much in theaters. Which is too bad because Portman is tremendous (and very sarcastically funny) and the film does a good job taking on the gossipy, self-righteous judgments sometimes aimed at “other women” who “don’t mother right.”
Aspects of Holy Rollers aren’t new–we’ve seen Jesse Eisenberg as all kinds of nervous, determined characters in films like Zombieland and The Social Network, and we’ve seen our fair share of Goodfellas-style cautionary tales about well-meaning protagonists sucked into the criminal life. The only difference here is Eisenberg is playing a young, modern-day Hasidic Jew who becomes an international drug mule, smuggling Ecstasy from Europe to New York. But the freshness of that Hasidic angle is plenty enough–the contrast between the ritualized cultural and religious trappings of devotion and the financial and carnal temptations of the drug world keeps the film humming over the familiar “based on a true story” story beats. Plus Eisenberg is strong as usual, and newcomer Antonio Macia directs with the right mix of style and grit.
This is how it’s done–a nearly textbook-perfect lesson in crafting a tight, logical thriller where people behave realistically and desperately even as nail-biting events continue to steadily ratchet up. Kurt Russell is terrific playing an everyman (not a super-macho action hero) whose car breaks down in the desert and whose wife (Kathleen Quinlan) then vanishes after taking a ride from a trucker. The trucker is played by the late, great J.T. Walsh — one of the finest character actors of the ’90s — and with his trademark “average-guy menace,” Walsh alone would be reason enough to watch. But Breakdown also reminds us how good a simple, well-told genre yarn can be when the writer-director (Jonathan Mostow of U-571 and Terminator 3) really cares about story and characters.
One of the (many) downsides of the hyped-up “Oscar Race” is the sense that fall-winter dramas that desperately try but don’t make it to the Big Show are somehow “failures.” Conviction follows the true story of Betty Anne Waters (played here by Hilary Swank), a working-class mother who goes back to college and then law school in order to try to get her brother (Sam Rockwell) out of prison where he’s serving a sentence for a murder she is sure he didn’t commit. The film certainly aims for Big Oscar Themes and Performances, and there are times it feels TV-movie-ish. But Swank is solid, and her scenes with the always arresting Rockwell crackle with desperate, weary strength. And overall the film’s gripping “Is he innocent, and if so how do you prove it?” questions keep you plugged into Betty Anne’s unflagging search for the truth.
- Reserve it at redbox.com
- Read my interviews with Conviction director Tony Goldwyn, co-star Juliette Lewis, and the real-life Betty Anne Waters