This week, we have one of 2015’s more underrated independent titles leading the charge, alongside one of its most divisive blockbusters. That would make for an interesting dichotomy with any slate, but today we also have a handful of other films with their share of fans. Overall, the group of movies is pretty decent, though it’s not an overwhelming surge of quality. Still, we’ve had far worse weeks of late, so I’m hardly complaining. My top pick today was an easy choice too, so that’s a bonus. Yes, my PICK OF THE WEEK is an indie film that I’ve raved about ever since the most recent Tribeca Film Festival. You’ll see which movie I’m talking about shortly, but for now, we move on to the Vintage section of this column!
In honor of this week’s release of Deadpool (which I absolutely raved about yesterday right here), I wanted to cite a recent work of Ryan Reynolds. The one I chose? Mississippi Grind, a deeply underrated character study from last year. In my review, I said the following:
“The filmmaking team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck really don’t get the acclaim that they deserve. Between Half Nelson, Sugar, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Boden and Fleck have been consistently making underrated character studies. Well, they can add another one to their resumes with Mississippi Grind, a distinctly classical American movie about compulsive gamblers, particularly feeling like it’s a product of the 1970’s. They set up a pair of interesting characters in Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds, get the plot in motion…and then just observe. This is what Boden and Fleck do best, so it’s no surprise that they really make this film work. Obviously, the duo of Mendelsohn and Reynolds, both of whom are excellent, help make this a success, but the whole group combine to allow the work to really sing. Though not quite as astounding as Half Nelson, this fits in nicely with their other two features, which is a definite compliment in my book. Mendelohn can never have enough leading roles and Reynolds deserves more consistently strong material like this, so the mere fact that they both get this allows Mississippi Grind to be a clear cut success.”
I stand by all that, and while Deadpool is what will help re-establish Reynolds as a huge star, this flick last year helped get the ball rolling. Be sure to give it a look.
The other two titles I’m going to discuss here today aren’t in the same league as my top pick, as usual, but they’re still pretty solid. Behold:
I have to admit that I never expected this to be the sort of under the radar awards contender that it turned out to be. As I said right here in my review:
“I’ve always felt that the films of Ramin Bahrani have ably mixed the indie with the mainstream in interesting ways, and that’s never been more so than with 99 Homes, a drama that pulsates with unexpected tension. In setting the movie in 2008, amidst the backdrop of the housing market crash, Bahrani has crafted something full of high stakes, even if it’s hardly a thriller or anything of the like. Watching someone try and stave off being kicked out of their house is dramatic enough. Bahrani succumbs to cliches here and there, but by and large he’s made his most successfully flick yet, due in part to the strong performances of Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. Garfield tries a very different sort of character on for size here, while Shannon gets to play around with a unique take on the kind of role he’s done before. It works far better than I was expecting, even if some issues like the score (more on that later) and the ending prevent 99 Homes from being something special.”
The Big Short kind of stole this one’s thunder, but it’s certainly a timely movie worth seeing, so give it a shot.
Special Features: N/A
Total Box Office: $1,411,927
Major Awards: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Shannon) at the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards
In all fairness, the pleasures found here in this latest 007 outing don’t especially hold up. This is how my review began:
“In many ways, the modern incarnation of the James Bond character has finally collided with the classic 007 in Spectre. The result isn’t nearly the success that Casino Royale or Skyfall was, though this Bond flick is not without its charms (and much better than Quantum of Solace). Daniel Craig is more at ease with the classical elements of the character than ever before, while returning director Sam Mendes does his best to continue giving the franchise a unique aesthetic. The creative forces here are really doing their damnedest to mix old and new, more so than ever before. On the one hand, things like the title and the way Craig’s spy interacts with characters as well as the world at large fit in with classic Bond, while on the other we have the most direct sequel ever in the franchise’s history. The mixture doesn’t always work, but it does satisfy, if that makes sense.”
It’s very middle of the road for James Bond, but you could definitely do a lot worse this week.
Special Features: Featurettes
Total Box Office: $199,591,466 (and counting)
Major Awards: Won Best Original Song at the Golden Globe Awards
Other Films Being Released
Here now is just a simple list of what else is hitting shelves on this particular day, sans my recommendation. Behold:
I missed this haunted house tale of sorts from cult favorite filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Reviews were middle of the road for this one, with many being similar to this take from EW’s Chris Nashawaty, which said “A loving throwback to Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies and Hammer’s gothic chillers from the ’60s, Crimson Peak is a cobwebs-and-candelabras chamber piece that’s so preoccupied with being visually stunning it forgets to be scary.” I’ll be seeing it soon, but my expectations are firmly being kept in check. If you follow along, it might pay to do the same thing on your end.
Box Office: $31,090,320
Freaks of Nature
At one point, this horror comedy was called The Kitchen Sink, which I think was a much better title. Alas, the movie doesn’t appear to be any good either, with Variety’s review saying the following: “”Freaks of Nature” proves a lifeless combination of alien invasion saga, zombie thriller, vampire romance and high-school drama.” Alas, it seems like a wasted premise.
Box Office: $70,958
This found footage horror flick really kind of went below the radar, not especially catching on in any notable way. The few colleagues who did see it seemed to enjoy it though, including Fred Topel, who wrote: “Hangman puts an interesting twist on the Hitchcock saying about showing the audience a bomb under the characters’ desk while the characters don’t know. Instead of a bomb, we’ve seen the killer in a family’s house and we have to watch them go about their business, unbeknownst to them that a killer is lurking.” If you want to go in blind on a title, it seems like this could be one to give a shot to.
Box Office: N/A
Love the Coopers
Despite the presence of John Goodman, among many others, I didn’t get a chance to see this ensemble dysfunctional family dramedy. Apparently though, I missed almost nothing of note, as reviews were poor. Stephen Witty might have hit the nail on the head when he said “There are just too many characters, frankly, and most of them are bores.” If so, I might have dodged a bullet, even.
Box Office: $26,302,731
No, this isn’t the latest Mission: Impossible flick, but a small scale spy tale that basically adapts a television series to the big screen. Trevor Johnston of Time Out seemed to like it, writing “Even if the film can’t match Hollywood for spectacle, there’s a sobering sense of the painful sacrifices facing those who toil to keep us safe from harm.” That’s not a must see type of endorsement, but it does have me curious, so I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.
Box Office: N/A
The Carol Burnett Show: Treasures from the Vault
The Leftovers: The Complete Second Season
Power Rangers Time Force: The Complete Series
Touched by an Angel: The Complete Series
PICK OF THE WEEK
One of the very best movies that I saw at Tribeca last year, this was more than just an awesome showcase for Lily Tomlin. As I raved in my review here, Sam Elliot shined as well:
“In a lot of ways, Grandma is a film that manages to sneak up on you. For about two thirds of its brisk running time, writer/director Paul Weitz is crafting a very funny and periodically poignant road trip dramedy that serves as a brilliant star vehicle for Lily Tomlin. Then, we get to the third act and things take a deeply emotional turn. I was truly blown away by the work not only that Tomlin and Weitz put in, but also the small supporting turn from Sam Elliot. All of the Oscar buzz surrounding Tomlin for Best Actress is warranted and well founded, believe me there, but I think it’ll be a crime if Elliot isn’t remembered in Best Supporting Actor at the end of the year. He turns in the epitome of a perfect supporting performance…”
Obviously, both were snubbed by Oscar, but this is still a brilliant little dramedy. You owe it to yourself to see this one!
Special Features: N/A
Total Box Office: $6,975,272 (and counting)
Major Award: Nominated for Best Actress (Tomlin) in a Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globe Awards
–What will you be watching this week? Discuss in the comments!