The post-boom slump that is the second week of any month in VOD releases is often a time of mixed fortunes, the previous selection’s vastness far overshadowing the comparably meagre offerings the rest of the month has to offer. It’s nice to be able to say, then, that this week has two distinctly great films to offer us, as well as a respectable selection of serviceable side dishes too. Classic Canadian horror and recent political documentaries await below, as well as an impressive four 2012 releases to boost the choice of this year’s films in the catalogue.
The long-time passion project of Glenn Close, who was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her lead role, Albert Nobbs is a fascinating but tantalisingly unsatisfying study of the titular hotel waiter, in fact a woman so used to living as a man that she seems even to have forgotten her real name. Set in 19th century Dublin, the film has the typical attention-to-detail of a lavish period piece, a detail it sadly struggles to replicate in its characters. Close’s passion for the role is plain to see, yet even a screenplay bearing the name of John Banville has a hard time tapping into any of the considerable opportunities for depth at hand and using the character to explore the issues of gender and sexuality so abundantly available for consideration. Even so, Close offers up such raw emotion that her every moment on screen is affecting, and the film’s sentimental slightness seems to fade away in her presence. WORTH WATCHING.
A wildly histrionic Kate Hudson contends with movie cancer in the obnoxiously vapid A Little Bit of Heaven, a ghastly romantic comedy that sees deadly disease as a shortcut to character sympathy and a blandly indistinct romantic comedy formula. Somehow managing to lure in talents the like of Gael Garcia Bernal, Kathy Bates, and Peter Dinklage, this unforgivably underwritten tripe veers wildly from melodramatic morbidity to high-spirited shopping sprees with all the stability of a drunken unicyclist, Hudson detestably leaping from wails of death-obsessed desperation to giddy consumerist giggles. Hers is certainly one of the year’s most contemptible characters, as inane as the film itself and just about as annoying too. A cameo for Whoopi Goldberg as Hudson’s projection of God—a role clearly written for anyone willing to stoop low enough to pick up the cheque—is the low point of a film defined by its demerits; A Little Bit of Heaven is a punishment fit for hell. AVOID IT.
Based as it is on just 201 seconds of YouTube footage, Bad Ass takes a number of creative liberties in adapting the viral internet story of “Epic Beard Man”, who fought off the harassments of a fellow bus passenger with surprising zeal for a 67 year old. Eschewing the racial aspects of the original conflict, the film stars Danny Trejo as Frank Vega, who beats up a pair of rowdy skinheads when they tauntingly threaten him. Thereafter becoming embroiled in a conspiracy that involves a murdered best friend, the mayor of his city, and an oil development, the film loses traction significantly after its amateurish but admittedly effective opening 20 minutes. With lacklustre performances, a nonsensical story, occasionally gory action, and one of the worst theme songs of any film ever, Bad Ass might be cheekily aware of its own ludicrousness, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a film of only moderate tolerability at best. AVOID IT.
It’s a dangerous thing, to portray arguably the most infamous man in history as just that: a man. Hitler’s actions have earned him an eternal reputation of amoral monstrosity; in portraying him as a vulnerable, insecure human being, Downfall courts immediate controversy for daring to suggest that he might even be pitiable. Bruno Ganz gives a stunning performance as the Führer in his final days, portraying his nation-winning charm and desperation-driven explosions of rage with equal aplomb. Oliver Hirschbiegel directs the primarily bunker-set scenes with claustrophobic effect, framing his characters against their ever-diminishing room to manoeuvre both physically and politically. At times too quick to balance its portrayal of Hitler with a reminder of his monstrosity, and unsuccessfully attempting to frame the film as the recollection of his secretary rather than as a mere reconstruction, Downfall nonetheless succeeds considerably as an impeccably acted wartime drama. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Could there be more ample opportunity for profound comment on the condition of America today than a documentary following the fortunes of illegal workers in a scrapyard right on the outskirts of New York city? The answer would appear to be no, yet somehow Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki manage only to make a mess of their subject matter, Foreign Parts less a telling microcosm of American life than a loose assemblage of disparate contemporary concerns. An unwillingness to choose a participant to focus upon in particular robs the piece of any significant emotional attachment as we observe a wide community of disadvantaged citizens, none of them particularly known to us by the film’s end. Nicely shot on handheld cameras, the film’s visual beauty is no substitute for thematic richness, and though it may touch upon a wide number of pressing social issues, Foreign Parts never manages to say very much at all about any of these. SO-SO.
Courtesy of its cult reputation and repeated championing by, among others, Martin Scorsese, 1980’s The Changeling has come to be known as the veritable granddaddy of Canadian horror cinema. Imagine that film with Mia Farrow in the George C. Scott role and you have Full Circle, a strikingly similar story of a grieving parent whose new house begins to reveal buried secrets that unearth a shocking conspiracy. Though considerably less well-known than The Changeling, Full Circle is the innocent party here, predating that film by some 3 years. Getting there first isn’t everything, however, and there’s no doubt that the more famous film is the superior one in this instance. Farrow’s performance—strong despite a dodgy accent—and a handful of decent scares ensure that Full Circle nevertheless stands tall as a dignified and respectable horror film in its own right, its gothic directorial panache enough to make it an enjoyably creepy viewing experience. WORTH WATCHING.
Ah, the curse of the modernised Shakespeare: do you amend the text to contemporary English and thus lose much of its impact, or retain the Elizabethan patois and in so doing make your characters seem silly as can be? For Alan Brown’s extraordinary Private Romeo, the trick is to turn text to metatext and thereby not only utilise the full power of the Bard’s writing, but even amplify and enrich it too. A group of military school cadets studying Shakespeare’s famous love story find themselves reciting it along the corridors, in the gym, on the basketball court, its timeless tale of star-cross’d lovers soon taking on an added significance for two of the young men. With the benefit of Brown’s stylish but unobtrusive camerawork and an incredibly impassionate cast of New York stage veterans, the play finds a magnificent new treatment, at once reverential and radical. Few have adapted Shakespeare to screen with greater success. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Successfully acclaimed though adaptations of his own novels might be, Ian McEwan has found small fortune in the realms of screenwriting, his films Soursweet and The Ploughman’s Lunch very little-known works indeed. In the case of The Good Son this obscurity is for the better, its pitting of Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood against each other as cousins, one of whom is distinctly evil, yielding just a flaccid show of amateur horror and dull storytelling. The young Culkin and Wood show plentiful promise at this early point in their respective careers, but the material can only take them so far, McEwan’s plotting sapping the life from an already stilted, uninteresting story of juvenile malice. An overused staple of horror cinema, the enfant terrible requires far better motivation than McEwan ever manages to muster, leaving The Good Son a strangely pointless, narratively staid exercise that wastes the talents of its confident child actors. AVOID IT.
Examining the common belief that the United States’ government is little more than an oil-hungry warmonger more harmful to the world than beneficial, Mitch Anderson and Jason J. Tomaric’s 2008 documentary hypothesises the removal of all oversees army bases and the total withdrawal of American foreign presence to examine the likely impact on the world economy and global peace. The filmmakers’ evident support for one side of the argument above the other lends The World Without US an uneasy sense of subjectivity at first, but they support their standpoint well with the aid of economic and political experts aplenty. A fascinating idea to begin with, the film occasionally finds itself overly bogged down in the fine details of its speakers’ areas of expertise, their analyses outstretching the bounds of necessity and growing somewhat tiresome. Such indulgences notwithstanding, this is an informative exploration of an oft-offered “solution”, a well-made filling-in of the bigger picture. WORTH WATCHING.