Here’s the thing: I read about movies a lot more than I actually see them. There’s only so much time. There’s only so much energy. So when you make a choice of a movie to watch, you obviously want it to be worth your time. Netflix and Amazon Prime have so many options that it’s literally a full-time job to keep track of all of it. Not everyone has the cable or those premium movie channels. But Redbox? Everyone has some kind of access to Redbox.
But when you go to a Redbox kiosk, if feels like there’s a clock counting down. There’s already either a line waiting behind you, or people are slowly moving through the parking lot and heading your direction. You have a limited amount of time to make a pretty important choice. The sad thing? You don’t have a lot of information to make that choice. You can see the movie covers. You can try and read the synopsis, but that always takes up more time and angers the people behind you. What would happen if you went to Redbox with an informed mental list of what you wanted to get? You could not only pick a good movie, but in a short amount of time.
Enter Redbox Ready. Each week, I’m hoping to give you some short snippets about the Redbox releases so you can make an informed choice. I can’t guarantee you’ll love the movie, but I can guarantee you’ll know more about it than if you had not read this column.
Since I know some of you reading this have a family to consider, I’m going to introduce a new aspect: The Blush Factor. Again, I’ve read about far more movies here than I’ve seen, so I can’t promise anything; but I will do my best to warn you of the Blush Factor – you know, anything that might make you nervous around your family. Swearing, sex, lots of violence – that kind of thing. Sometimes you can tell by the film’s rating; sometimes you can tell by the people who wrote the script and made the actual movie. There’s nothing lamer than taking a movie home you’re excited about only to find a few minutes in that it’s totally not appropriate for the audience watching it. Let’s avoid that blushing.
Coming to Redbox on April 14th:
Big Eyes (2014) – directed by Tim Burton, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz
Rotten Tomatoes: 71 %, Audience Score: 70% Liked It
Director Tim Burton has had his head in the CGI clouds for some time now. Go back to his first films and you’ll see a man enamored with the practical – stop-motion and make-up, the eerily realistic over the disarmingly fake. But more and more, Burton’s style began to completely overwhelm any story he was trying to tell. The Master of Macabre got drunk on his own medicine. It then led into a movie I still find grotesquely ugly – 2010’s Alice in Wonderland – for just how full of clashing, poorly composited CGI it is. I resigned myself to the fact that maybe Burton was gone for good. We got some good movies out of him; we could all move on. But then 2012’s Frankenweenie saw him return to the stop-motion that pushed him in the early years, and 2014’s Big Eyes has been reported as a nice return to storytelling form. There’s no major CGI or dark, quirky design elements. This is Burton telling a simple story and telling it well. Let’s hope it’s a sign of good things to come.
The Short Story: Margarent Keane is known for painting figures with unusually large eyes and, running from her husband with only her paintings and her kids, runs into Walter Keane, a fellow painter. Walter goes off selling the paintings while Margaret paints at home – but she doesn’t know he’s actually selling the paintings as his own.
Blush Factor: Pretty low. It’s PG-13 for “brief strong language”. If you have an earmuffs set on hand for the family, you should be just fine.
Exodus: God and Kings (2014) – directed by Ridley Scott, starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%, Audience Score: 37% Liked It
Ridley Scott is 78 years old. Just how many people do we know of that age who are making a 140 million dollar epic in the Middle East? You can take that as a sign that this movie has been imbued with some kind of amazing life force that refuses to die – or you can take it as a sign that studios will make anything with Scott as long as he’s still standing. But very few directors today can direct an epic with the eye that Scott has. He’s proven it time and time again over the years, and early trailers showed he still has that visual acumen. The movie gained a lot of controversy early on for having stars that look nothing like someone from the Middle East – like Hollywood’s never done that before.
The Short Story: Moses is pretty fed up with the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses and leads 600,000 slaves on a pretty incredible, action-packed escape from Egypt.
Blush Factor: This is a PG-13 epic for “violence including battle sequences and intense images”. Expect a lot of fighting and maybe some digital blood. PG-13 movies are getting away with violence in ways they never have before, so be aware of that. The other Blush Factor? Respected actors Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton hitting the tanning salon too much in their attempt to look Middle Eastern.
The Babadook (2014) – written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, Audience Score: 75 % Liked It
The reputation of this Australian film precedes it. Every time I’ve heard the name of it, it’s always been after someone describing it as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen. Even better, it seems to that kind of scary flick that leans less on jump-scares on more on psychological horror, while somehow splicing in a really moving story about parents and children.
The Short Story: A mother loses her husband in a car crash. Her only son, whom she’s raising on her own, begins fearing monsters that no one else can see. They read a book about the ‘Badabook’ monster who lurks around the shadows of the house. This isn’t going to be a picnic.
Blush Factor: the film is unrated at the moment, but it has been called one of the scariest films in years by many, many people. In other words: leave the kids out of this one. The only other blush factor to worry about is how often you’ll accidentally pee your pants.
The Penguins of Madagascar (2014) – directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, Audience Score: 64% Liked It
The Dreamworks Animation franchise train keeps on rolling. After their successful TV show on Nickelodeon, it only made sense to make a Penguins of Madagascar movie. But since this film didn’t do too well at the box office (and Dreamworks Animation’s films have been struggling at the box office in general) enjoy it’s existence, with all its random lines and odd verbal jokes intact.
Short Story: If you know the plot of Despicable Me 2, you know the general plot of this profoundly silly, completely delightful film. The Penguins get wrapped up in a mission to stop an evil octopus from making all other penguins around the world far less cute and a lot more ugly. You read that right.
Blush Factor: Really low. This film is rated PG for “mild action and some rude humor”. So, farting. And maybe a couple jokes that will go completely over your kids’ heads.
Other Movies on Redbox Totally Worth Checking Out:
Big Hero 6 (2014) – Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score: 92% Liked It
This not only made my Top 10 List for the Year of 2014, but probably the Top 5 list of every kid in America. You can’t resist the cuteness of Baymax or the emotional story that threads its way through the movie. I work with deaf students with special needs, and I’m still amazed at how many details they remember and are able to communicate to me. You can pull out any movie from 2014 in front of them, and every single one of them picks Big Hero 6. This is a movie that has stuck to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. Disney has every right to be as proud of this film as they are.
Short Story: If you don’t know already, it’s about a young tech prodigy named Hiro who loses his older brother in a tragic accident and is stuck with his invention, a personal health care companion robot known as Baymax. Hiro also meets a group of well-meaning nerds who band together to fight against a dark power attacking the city of San Fransokyo.
Blush Factor: rated PG for “action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements”. The brother dying might be a bit tough for some little kids to take, but the real blush factor is going to be how much of a weeping baby you are by the end, and with nowhere to hide.
Beyond the Lights (2014) – Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, Audience Score: 79% Liked It
When I was in high school, I heard many girls talk about this movie, Love & Basketball. It sounded too corny for a guy to like, so I promptly ignored it. When I got to college? Even more women who loved this movie and wouldn’t stop talking about it. If you were one of those women? That movie was directed by Prince-Bythewood and this is her first movie since 2008’s The Secret Life of Bees and only her third feature film overall. She might not make many, but she makes them good.
The Short Story: a young music superstar (up-and-comer Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is caving in from the pressures of fame until she meets Kaz (Nate Parker), a young cop who helps her become the person she’s always wanted to be.
Blush Factor: PG-13 for some minor sexual provocation, some minor violence, and some minor swearing. Nothing too crazy. Just enjoy the movie.
Whiplash (2014) – Directed and Written by Damien Chazelle
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, Audience Score: 95%
I saw Whiplash a couple months ago in a theater and just couldn’t find a way to say anything about the film that hasn’t already been said before, and better. This is simply an incredible film about a young drummer and the man who pushes him past his limits. You may question his methods, but you won’t question just how kickass a movie this is. The final 20 minutes are my favorite stretch-run of any movie I’ve seen in the past year – I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
The Short Story: a young freshman drummer goes to college, intent on being great. He runs into a demanding band instructor who wants nothing more than the best from his players. Something’s gotta give.
Blush Factor: There is a lot of language in this film, and most of it screamed by Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons. Because the camera closes in tight on him frequently, it may feel as though he’s in the room, and maybe even yelling at you. If you can’t handle obscenities at high volume, then maybe this film isn’t for you.
The Book of Life (2014) – Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score: 78%
Imagine taking a kaleidoscope, a firecracker, and some confetti and tossing it in a blender. Whatever you get out of that is still not nearly as colorful as The Book of Life. I highly recommend seeing this on the biggest screen and with the best picture possible. The artwork in this film is jaw-dropping, and when the film goes to the Land of the Remembered? You haven’t seen anything this gorgeously colorful. This is a film that celebrates the director’s culture as well as his American influences with some nice popular song covers. It’s about the most heartfelt movie you will see this year outside of Big Hero 6, and something for everyone to enjoy.
Short Story: Manolo, a young man torn between his family’s legacy and what he really wants, finds himself in the middle of a supernatural wager to win the love of his life. You’ve seen this kind of story before, but never with the verve, the depth, or the colors that this one has.
Blush Factor: PG for some mild action, rude humor, and scary images. There are some character designs that are pretty crazy, and the character of Xibalba might be a little visually intense for some.
Birdman (2014) – Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score: 80% Liked It
After their fractured-narrative films of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, Inarritu and his collaborating writer Guillermo Arriaga went through a bad break-up. No one seems to know exactly what happened, but what followed was a re-evaluation: who was more responsible for how good their three films were? Did Inarritu carry it to greatness and make a decent script great? Did Arriaga create stories Inarritu merely had to point and shoot? Were the two of them just a beautiful collaboration of two distinct artistic voices?
Both men struck out on their own with Inarritu’s Biutiful being praised for it’s electric direction and incredible central performance from Javier Bardem, but derided for a weak and contrived script. Arriaga himself overwrote his directorial debut in The Burning Plain, with his script being called overly symbolic, too much like his other fractured, multiple narrative stories, and without emotional resonance. So who was going to emerge with the career, to get back on track?
While Arriaga has mostly made short films since, Inarritu collaborated with a team of writers and came out with the awards season darling Birdman, which won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. He’s now shooting a movie, The Revenant, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Not too shabby.
Short Story: The film follows a washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) as he battles his demons in the days leading up to the opening of his new Broadway play.
Blush Factor: Rated R. Lots of swearing, some sex, and a fair amount of bloody violence. It wouldn’t be an Inarritu film without a little bit of everything.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 – Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%, Audience Score: 74% Liked It
Director Francis Lawrence brought a nice eye to Catching Fire that gave the film some visual flair and epic world-building. The real problem with this film is that it really only tells half of a story, with the second half of Mockingjay hitting theaters in November. You can blame Lionsgate for that decision, but you can’t blame them for giving the production what it needs to make a pretty incendiary movie.
The Short Story: Katniss continues the fight in District 13. What more do you need to know?
Blush Factor: PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material”. A revolution was never going to be pretty or go quietly.
Interstellar (2014) – Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, Audience Score: 86% Liked It
Last time Nolan followed up a Batman movie with 200-million dollar budget thinkpiece, we got 2010’s Inception. This time, following The Dark Knight Rises, we get Interstellar. Both times the media knew very little about these original films while they were being made. Nolan is one of the few who can command the budget, the large roster of incredible actors, and still remain in relative secrecy until just before film opens. While I’m still amazed I have not yet seen Nolan’s latest, it goes without saying that this is not a film to see when you’re tired – unless you want to fall asleep. There are a number of high-concepts tossed around here, and all of it played out by a large group of game actors. They don’t make movies much like this anywhere, so if you’re one of those people who complains that Hollywood is always dumbing down to it’s audience, this is your antidote.
Short Story: The Earth, devastated by drought and famine, is making it hard for people to survive. Our main character (Matthew McConaughey) must lead a team on a space shuttle deep into the space-time contiuum to try and find another hospitable planet and save the world before it ends. I think. I think that’s it. It’s pretty complicated stuff. Just see the movie!
Blush Factor: Low. Some “intense perilous action and brief strong language:. So, a lot of things go wrong and sometimes people swear about them like normal people do. Nolan’s films have been rather sexless affairs, so no need to worry on that front, either.
Under The Radar, But Now Pinging For Attention
A Most Violent Year (2014) – Directed by J.C. Chandor
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score: 73% Liked It
You know a movie’s going to be good when it’s about something that sounds entirely boring, and yet people talk about how explosive it is. Even better: putting two of today’s finest actors – Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain – together as the couple at the heart of it.
Short Story: Set in 1981 New York City, historically a year of violence, a young immigrant and his family try to make it out as oil salesmen. I told you it sounded kinda boring. But it appears to be anything but. And about that violence of this most violent year? Only two people die in the entire film.
Blush Factor: Rated R. Lots of violence and lots of swearing. You didn’t think 1981 New York City would be anything but, didn’t you?
The Voices (2014) – Directed by Marjane Satrapi
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, Audience Score: 60% Liked It
Director Satrapi, who made the great graphic novel (and film adaptation) Persepolis, returns to the directing chair to work off another person’s script. The same dark sense of humor is here. Also joining in the fun is an entirely game, incredible acting performance from Ryan Reynolds, as well as nice turns from Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick.
The Short Story: Jerry (Reynolds) clearly has some issues but is refusing to take his meds. As a result, his cat, Mr. Whiskers, starts speaking to him about sinister, evil deeds, while his dog, Boscoe, does his doggy best to persuade him he’s still a good person and he can always do the right thing. The two voices grow louder and louder as Jerry continues to avoid taking his meds, leading him down a pretty awful path he can’t back away from.
The Blush Factor: there’s a lot of swearing in this one, with most of it coming from the cat (of course!). There’s also a lot of violence and blood and completely unexpected things being stocked up in piles of tupperware. The humor in the film takes some of the edge off, but this is still one bloody film.
The Double (2013) – Directed by Richard Ayoade
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score: 60% Liked It
Richard Ayoade, an actor mostly known for British comedy series, The IT Factor, carved out a nice spot for himself as a director with his debut, Submarine. I’ve been dying to see his follow-up, and here it is, with great young actors Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in tow.
Short Story: a young, introverted clerk in a government agency arrives to work one day to find he has a new co-worker – an exact physical clone of him and yet his complete opposite – outgoing, charismatic, and spectacular with the ladies.
Blush Factor: the f-word is used up to 15 times, and there are reoccuring mentions of suicide throughout the movie, as well as an attempt at the beginning and middle of the movie.
The Drop (2014) – Directed by Michael R. Roskam
Rotten Tomatoes 89%, Audience Score: 77%
Don’t let the boring title deter you. Screenwriter Dennis Lehane should be a familiar name to any crime fiction fans as he’s responsible for the novels of which the movies Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island were all based on. He also was a writer for HBO’s The Wire, which is always a great stamp of approval in my book. Here, Lehane wrote his first screenplay as an adaptation of his own short story, “Animal Rescue”. The script was enough to attract the great cast of Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini.
The Short Story: A bartender (Hardy) who makes money drops finds himself caught in the middle of a robbery gone awry, entrenching him in an investigation that reveals a town that works together to make a living, regardless of the costs.
Blush Factor: Rated R for a ton of swearing (66 f-words!) and violence. This is a crime film after all.
Top Five (2014) – Directed by Chris Rock
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Audience Score: 67%
I’ve never been convinced of Chris Rock as an actor. Every movie he’s in, he seems to be unable to blend into the scene. When Top Five took Sundance 2014 by storm, I figured, “Maybe he’s figured something out!”. But when I saw the film, the first half of it felt like that guy at a party who’s trying way too hard to sound smart. He uses obscure references. He moves around too much. He thinks he knows how things work when those who know better shake their head a little. There’s just too much going on, and it all seems to be a way for him to show you, “Look! I’ve come a long way!”. But once Rock, the director, writer, and actor, calms down about halfway through, the film gets a new charge. It feels like something real and organic. Rock looks comfortable with his luminous co-star Rosario Dawson. It feels like a film about two broken people trying to find their way around, and you totally buy it. It may take a while to get there, but once it does, it relaxes into a nice piece of work.
Short Story: A comedian who’s trying to make it as a serious actor agrees to allow him and his fiancé to be filmed for a documentary series about the days leading up to their wedding. Feeling the pressure, he takes a break from the madness and walks around with a journalist who’s intent on doing a story about him.
Blush Factor: Lots of nudity and sexual conversation, pretty non-stop profanity, and some drug use. Definitely not for the kids.
Foxcatcher (2014) – Directed by Bennett Miller
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Audience Score: 69%
This film first got attention as being “that movie where Steve Carrell has a beak for a nose” and “Can Channing Tatum win an Oscar?” Much of the award buzz unfortunately fizzled out as the year went on, but this appears to be still be a strong, potent film.
The Short Story: the film is based on a rather shocking true story, in which a Olympic Wrestling champion team of two brothers (Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) gets tangled up with a multimillionaire sponsor in John E. du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It doesn’t go well.
Blush Factor: Rated R for some violence and blood, brief profanity, drug use (cocaine), and a wrestler shown naked from behind as he weighs in. A gun murder is also shown.
Other Films Worth Considering:
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014) – Directed by Shaun Levy
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%, Audience Score: 60% Liked It
You knew they were going to make a third film, because all Hollywood productions come in threes. If you enjoyed the first two, you will likely enjoy this final entry. It also sports one of Robin Williams last performances.
The Short Story: Larry goes to a museum in London to try and keep the magic alive.
Blush Factor: Low. Rated PG for “mild action, some rude humor and brief language”. If you see something awful, like a large monkey peeing on miniature Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, ask your son, “Is that the appropriate place to tinkle?” and then pat yourself on your back as your child emphatically shakes his head.
Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day (2014) – Directed by Miguel Arteta
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%, Audience Score: 60%
Director Miguel Arteta has been behind some pretty great little films of the last 10 years – Cedar Rapids, Youth in Revolt, and The Good Girl – as well as a great deal of television episodes. Here, he’s adapting Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book for the screen, and it appears to be just about what you expect – a movie about all the things that can go wrong and still remind you how lucky you are to have the family you do.
The Short Story: It’s all the there in the title. Alexander and his family don’t have a very good day.
Blush Factor: Rated PG. Some mild bathroom humor, a bit of slapstick violence, some pretty tame language. All in all: some good family fun.
Dumb and Dumber To (2014) – Directed by The Farrelly Brothers
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%, Audience Score: 39% Liked It
You won’t find many people a bigger fan of 1994’s Dumb and Dumber than this guy. I still laugh just as hard at it as I did twenty years ago. I initially found myself kind of excited about Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprising their roles from 20 years ago. Cautious optimism, I guess. But then the trailers came out, and some of the jokes seemed like they had been imported from a far crasser Farrelly Brothers movie. It didn’t feel the same. Something felt off. That got confirmed when the movie came out when several critics noted how, unlike the first film, there seemed to be a mean streak with the characters. The original film might have had Harry and Lloyd do some pretty awful things – but they never had any mean intent to them; they were simply clueless.
I still haven’t seen this film, and I’m not sure I really want to. I prefer to think of Harry and Lloyd as the lovable, well-meaning losers they are instead of the creepy, mean-spirited men they may have become. Check this out for yourself.
The Short Story: The boys go on a new road trip to find Harry’s newly discovered daughter, who had previously been given up for adoption.
Blush Factor: PG-13 for some crude sexual humor, some comedic violence, some drug use and some jokes that may be offensive to some.
Welp, that’s all for this week. Tune in next week for another edition of Redbox Ready.