Bargain Bin Archives

$5 a Day by D. B. Bates – September 24, 2010
What a setup: in a single day, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola, perhaps most recognizable from his turn in 2005’s Junebug) loses his job, loses his girlfriend (Amanda Peet), and learns his con-artist father, Nat (Christopher Walken), may be dying of brain cancer. Left with no one to turn to, Flynn reluctantly reenters Nat’s life, and what follows is a combination of a father-son bonding movie and a road movie. Unfortunately, neither movie is particularly good despite Walken’s always-welcome presence.

Badge, The by Matt Wedge – January 7, 2011
I’ve always felt that the true test of an actor is how well they hold up in a bad film. In a good film, with a solid script and capable direction, an actor can coast and let the material carry them. I’m not saying that actors do that; I just feel an accomplished director and a skilled editor can mask a lot of the faults of a weak performance and make an actor look better than he or she actually is. When an actor can single-handedly save a film from a bad script and an incompetent director and make it, if not good, at least watchable, that speaks volumes to me about their ability. Such is the case with Billy Bob Thornton and The Badge.

Edison Force [a.k.a. Edison] by D. B. Bates – February 18, 2011
As a critic, watching Edison Force is the equivalent to having an out-of-body experience. The critic in me hovers at a distance, knowing I shouldn’t recommend a film with such a silly plot and such over-the-top violence. By most reasonable metrics, it’s a bad film: characters crippled by clichés, a story that simultaneously indicts fascist police states and fetishizes the violence such states breed, a pat (yet exceptionally violent) conclusion, and Kevin Spacey in a laughable hairpiece. Something about it just works, though, so even as the critic part of me rolled its eyes, the rest of me sat on the edge of my seat, hoping everything would work out for the characters. This despite the fact that I knew where the plot was headed after the second scene, and I knew the film wouldn’t have the balls to go for a tragic ending.

Giallo by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010
Perhaps more damning to the film’s credibility is that its legendary co-writer/director Dario Argento has disowned it. Claiming the producers recut the film behind his back, he has expressed disappointment with the version of the film that played at festivals and has now found its way to DVD. But after viewing the cut that he’s disappointed in, I feel it safe to say that no matter how this footage was pieced together, the result was going to be a massive turkey.

Grilled by D. B. Bates – November 12, 2010
Imagine Quentin Tarantino had written Glengarry Glen Ross, and you’ll have some idea of what Grilled is about. You’ll also probably understand why it quietly went straight to DVD, considering it came on the heels of stars Ray Romano and Kevin James giving up highly successful, crowd-pleasing sitcoms in which they played generally likable people. Few would look at either comedian and say, “I want to see them in a cynical dramedy where they play sociopaths.” Yet, the movie itself is actually pretty good.

Leaves of Grass by Matt Wedge – November 24, 2010
I like to imagine that if Richard Kelly had directed Pineapple Express, it might have resembled Leaves of Grass. Combining a traditional genre film with unexpected plot twists and a healthy dollop of philosophical musings, the film resembles a comedic version of what Kelly tried to pull off with The Box.

Messages Deleted by D. B. Bates – January 21, 2011
With more ambition, Messages Deleted could have been a great thriller variation on the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaboration Adaptation. The title and DVD box art give the impression that this will be a thriller in the vein of two other Larry Cohen scripts: Phone Booth and Cellular. It’s actually a thriller about a failed screenwriter embroiled in a murder mystery whose victims are right out of his only sold (but unproduced) screenplay, and it spends a lot of time talking about the conventions of movies without really twisting or defying them. Merely acknowledging clichés doesn’t automatically overcome them.

Triage by D. B. Bates – November 19, 2010
I guess I can see why Triage went direct-to-DVD. It’s a very good film, but it’s relentlessly dour and unpleasant. As has been typical of Colin Farrell’s choices over the past few years, he’s challenging himself by playing a difficult character in a difficult film that I found difficult to watch. Still, it’s a lot less oppressive and self-conscious than something like 21 Grams, so shuffling it off to DVD seems like kind of a cruel punishment for a film that’s significantly more passionate than that exercise in ACTING.

Winning Season, The by D. B. Bates – December 17, 2010
Try as I might, I can’t see the logic in The Winning Season heading to DVD after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “theatrical run” for awards consideration. A funny, dark-edged sports comedy featuring Sam Rockwell as a cantankerous alcoholic coach and a plethora of rising stars (Emma Roberts, Emily Rios, Rooney Mara, Shareeka Epps) and comedy ringers (Rob Corddry, Margo Martindale). In a world where trailers frequently mislead audiences into thinking they’re seeing one thing (a good movie) when they’re seeing another (a shitty movie), how could they not cut a trailer making this look like an innocuous teen comedy along the lines of the execrable Easy A? There’s nothing wrong with tricking people into seeing a better movie than the one they think they’re seeing. That’s what Whip It did. Although nobody saw it — but that’s different. People actually like basketball.

Woods, The by Matt Wedge – December 8, 2010
Admittedly, The Woods barely holds the minimum requirements for a Bargain Bin column. Individually, there is no member of the cast who I would say it’s a shock to see in a direct-to-DVD feature. But combining them all in one feature without even the briefest of a theatrical release is somewhat surprising. Given how long the film sat on the shelf before being quietly slipped to the home video market with a barebones DVD, you would think it was a true stinker, an embarrassment that the better known members of the cast would quietly drop from their résumés. The truth is the exact opposite.