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Gems on streaming and rental

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At the movies
September 2, 2015 | 3,000 views | Post a comment

The end of August and early September tend to be a dumping ground for movies in which studios lack confidence. It’s the perfect excuse to visit a number of films that slipped through the cracks earlier in the year, getting a limited or no theatrical release before landing on Redbox or streaming services like Netflix. There are several worth watching:

“Black Sea” is one of the best submarine movies in recent history. A submarine operator named Robinson (Jude Law) is laid off by his salvage company. His coworkers take information about a sunken Nazi U-Boat in the Black Sea before they suffer the same fate. That submarine was carrying tens of millions in gold. With tensions between Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine, the waters are unapproachable, so Robinson puts together a motley crew to overhaul a derelict World War II submarine and get the gold themselves.

Half-British and half-Russian, the crew’s tensions quickly rise. They fight for shares of the gold before they’ve even recovered it, creating a mounting series of problems that strand the ship underwater. Robinson’s obsession with besting his former employers forces worse and worse decisions as he tries to save both his crew and the gold. It’s a classic adventure tale, well-filmed, wonderfully-acted, and very tense. Yet it barely even sniffed theaters.

“Lost River” is actor Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It’s a dreamlike fairy tale about the power of mythology in a town devastated by the loss of its river. Playing like an experimental horror movie in a postapocalyptic setting, it’s cruel and kind in equal measure.

A film whose R rating should be taken seriously, it feels at first like a meeting of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie like “Drive” and a David Lynch movie like “Mulholland Drive.” Yet even as its reality passes in and out of metaphor, “Lost River” is far more narratively guided than those comparisons. It owes much to the thick, artistic style of Italian giallo horror, full of colorful backdrops, electronic soundscapes, and heavy symbolism.

Not everyone will love “Lost River.” It’s a decidedly experimental film, but if “arthouse” piques your interest, you’ll find few things more emotionally intriguing than “Lost River.” It relies on a stellar cast led by Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”), a nearly unrecognizable Iain De Casteckers (“Agents of SHIELD”), and a deliciously deranged villain courtesy of Matt Smith (the 11th “Doctor Who”).

“Tracers” is a parkour movie, and parkour is all about running, jumping, and climbing over obstacles at a sprinting speed, or landing a two-story jump without hurting yourself. Do not try it at home, but certainly watch it. “Tracers” stars “Twilight” heartthrob Taylor Lautner as a New York bike messenger who joins a gang of parkour thieves.

The truth is, no one looked good in the “Twilight” franchise, and no actor should be judged by their part in it. Lautner doesn’t act particularly well here, but neither does he act badly. He acts like a real person, which works well for a film like this.

There are melodramatic bits, including a central love story that fails to get the blood pumping, but the real star of the film are the best chase scenes this year outside of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “Tracers” is also clever about its similarities to “Point Break,” undermining certain expectations. The team considers itself professionals, not thrill seekers. They’re not willing to kill. When the Feds get involved, it’s just another villain to avoid, not the good guys riding to the rescue. “Tracers” is quality fast food -- not a great movie, but certainly the best American parkour movie that’s been made.

“Kill Me Three Times” is an Australian comedy that owes much to “Fargo.” It features a controlling husband with an anger problem, a wife driven to cheating, a dentist owing hundreds of thousands in gambling debts, two murders schemes pulled off by inconceivably bad criminals, and a bag of money that keeps changing hands. Moments early in the film that seem meaningless are suddenly given a weight and irony by later developments as we hop back and forth across two days in a seemingly peaceful coastal Australian town.

The film’s biggest strength is the participation of comedian Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Star Trek”) as the perpetually amused hit man Charlie Wolfe. Like much of Australian comedy, there’s a good amount of bloodshed, some sex, and swearing. The joy here is in seeing Pegg and others nastily smirk their way through the clever genre fare.

Finally, “Slow West” is a Western comedy about a young man in 1870 traveling halfway around the world in order to make it out of his (supposedly) true love’s “Friend Zone.” The film is unique in that it’s essentially one great big set-up for an incredibly wry series of punch lines. Starring Michael Fassbender, if you like dry comedy and can wait an hour until the payoffs start coming, “Slow West” is a darkly witty and nuanced film with a bit of quality action to boot.

Take a look at some of these if what’s in the theater seems lacking; you may find a gem or two you love.

Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at Email him at

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