Here’s a couple of movies new to DVD that you may not have heard of. They are both indies and both deal with folks in way over their heads in debt. And they are both worth a look:

TAKE OUT (Dirs. Sean Baker & Shih-Ching Tsou, 2004)

We first meet the protagonist of this piece, Charles Jang as an illegal Chinese immigrant, in his grimy shit-hole of a New York apartment as he’s being roughed up for money owed for smuggling him into the country. The loan shark goons tell him he has until the end of the day to pay them or the debt will double. Jang works as a bicycle delivery-man for a Chinese restaurant in the middle of melting pot Manhattan. Bit by bit he borrows from family and friends but still comes up short. His only option is to make up the difference in tips so he takes all the day’s deliveries at one point yelling “I can’t afford any mistakes today!” at his confused co-workers.

Jang’s exasperation is palpable as he deals with a dreary rainy day, his bike getting a flat tire, and scores of lousy tippers. “I could’ve mail-ordered Chinese food faster than this” one smarmy customer complains. Our weary yet determined trooper speaks very little English but he obviously feels the tone of hostility and racial tension seemingly hidden behind every door he comes to. Shot on digital video with a miniscule budget, TAKE OUT is gritty and engaging with a devastating last third (don’t worry, no Spoilers). Whether you call the over-riding style of this fine film cinema vérité or neo-realism, there is not a single in-authentic moment present.

RANDY AND THE MOB (Dir. Ray McKinnon, 2009) Alongside his varied career as a side-line character actor on TV (Designing Women, Matlock, Deadwood) and in movies (DRIVING MISS DAISY, APOLLO 13, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU), Ray McKinnon has slowly but surely been carving a career as director. He won a Best Live Action Short Film Oscar for his debut THE ACCOUNTANT, got critical acclaim for his first full-length effort the crime-drama CHRYSTAL, and now is offering up this Southern fried comedy. Described as a “good ol’ boy”, Mckinnon’s Randy Pearson owns several businesses in a small Georgia town and owes money on all of them because he borrowed from the Mob.

Set in one of those little towns in which everybody knows each other (see such similar indies such as HAPPY, TEXAS and LARS AND THE REAL GIRL), this movie sports a strong supporting cast. McKinnon’s real-life wife (Lisa Blount) plays his clinically depressed spouse, Paul Ben-Victor has an odd surly warmth as a loan shark, Burt Reynolds has a one scene cameo as a business competitor of McKinnon’s, and most notably Walto Goggins portrays a very odd enforcer who wins over just about everybody with his cooking, clogging, and soft spoken, yet statically worded, advice. I couldn’t possibly leave out that McKinnon plays another role, that of his gay identical twin brother. That’s right.

It doesn’t contain big laughs or any surprises really, but RANDY AND THE MOB has plenty of charm under its down-home yet cliché riddled surface. It’s a well made movie with a likable spirit; one with the right amount of heart for its characters. McKinnon is more than just a competent director/actor – his ability to pull of the gay brother part without any of a cheap cringing undertone is worth commending (especially with Goggins’ line: “He’s as gay as a 1940’s musical”). For a low-key comedy of modest proportions, this is certainly a success. It only had a few showings at film festivals and was passed over for a theatrical release, but now on DVD, with much hope it will find the audience it richly deserves.

More later…

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