With 2012 just about to enter its final quarter, we can expect a nice step-up in the number of this year’s films arriving as streaming titles. Indeed, this week alone offers a range of movies all of which first hit cinema screens within the past twelve months, giving the VOD customers among us even better chance to catch up with the titles we might have missed from the year to date. A smattering of horror, as usual mostly bad, is the centrepiece of the week’s new releases, with Norway, China, and Canada our latest choices of foreign destinations. Get watching, and be sure to check back next week for the traditional first-of-the-month deluge. We’ll have a little something to tide you over until Skyfall…
Yet another of the endless stream of low-budget horror films to mistakenly think employing a found footage aesthetic excuses sub-par production quality, Apartment 143 uses the gimmick—for that is all it has become—to no reasonable end, following to the letter the pattern of the Paranormal Activity films in its languid stretches of dull characterisation and sudden bursts of loud noise. A team of supernatural detectives form the conceit used to establish the films-within-the-film, capturing the typical procession of mysteriously slamming doors and flickering lights. The film’s sheer conventionality is a great shame, particularly given the mite of interesting family drama constructed in its opening act, the residents of the eponymous apartment still in the throes of grief after the death of their wife and mother. Decent performances almost manage to constitute an emotional centre, but so pathetically ineffective are the efforts at scares that Apartment 143 becomes only a tedious and trite rehashing of well-worn clichés. AVOID IT.
It’s telling to note that Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes’ modernised adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s lesser known tragedies, opened in Lebanon before any other nation: this is a film that, though rooted in historical conflict, speaks undoubtedly to the world of today, decrying the incessant violence and bloodshed still rife in our world. The text, spoken as is, tells of a powerfully patriotic general whose banishment from Rome motivates him to ally with his former enemies to take his revenge. There’s something about well-executed Shakespeare that seems to bring out the best in a performer, certainly the case here for Gerard Butler as the leader of the adversaries, and arguably so for Fiennes too. He is astounding in the title role, imbuing an abundantly flawed character with a reserved and seething sense of humanity, fallibility, and pain. His work behind the camera is just as impressive, matching the power of the dialogue in his gritty aesthetic, maintaining spellbinding tension right to the bitter, unexpected end. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The proliferation of Scandinavian thrillers in the wake of the Millennium trilogy’s success has seen the recent release of such entertaining, if perhaps forgettable, efforts as Babycall and Easy Money. The best of the bunch, and the deserved successor to the Dragon Tattoo mantle, is Headhunters: a wildly entertaining and tonally fluid race through a world of corporate criminals, art frauds, and a worryingly high mortality rate. The bizarrely coiffured Aksel Hennie is enthralling as Roger Brown, whose efforts to steal the priceless painting of a Swedish CEO lands him—at one point quite literally—deep in a steaming mess. Startling bloodshed, terrific thrills, and exhausting escapades follow in spades, made most enjoyable not by the ludicrous fun they offer, but by the constantly realistic reactions of the severely out-of-his-depth Roger. Recognisable conformities to Hollywood plot contrivance and conventions do a fine film a disservice, but next to the majority of American thrillers, Headhunters stands toweringly tall. RECOMMENDED.
Making history as the first major Hollywood star to play a leading role in an entirely Chinese-funded production, Kevin Spacey looks to be having the time of his life in Inseparable, contributing a performance of winsome glee more inclined toward the manic end of his spectrum as the American neighbour of a suicidal man, together with whom he eventually takes to the streets to fight the injustice of society. The silliness of its concept and Spacey’s performance considered, it’s a fair assumption that Inseparable might be a comedy, yet the seriousness of its opening moments and the introduction of a broken marriage and miscarriage into the plot make far more dramatically inclined the story. It’s the film’s inability to find a balance between these contrasting tones that marks its death, careering from one to the other with astonishing inanity. Abundant predictability hardly helps: the entire plot arc is plain to see by the twelfth minute, leaving little to cling to as the film flounders from bloated humour to banal hubris. AVOID IT.
An ethereal oddity of positively Lynchian proportions, Guy Maddin’s Keyhole is a metaphysical thriller with roots in everything from the Odyssey to the silent era German horror films. Hauntingly eerie from its opening moments, it follows the efforts of apparent gangster Ulysses to reach his wife at the top of his house, whom we intermittently see sat on her bed with her nude father chained on the floor beside her. Stuffed with symbolism so obtuse and opaque as to make the film a frustrating experience for all but the most patient of viewers, Keyhole is—it cannot be overstated—not a film for everybody. Those who can appreciate the intoxicating allure of Maddin’s monochrome aesthetic and haunting atmosphere long enough to reach the impressively conclusive denouement will find rich reward here: the semiotic complications of its plot and imagery aside, Keyhole is a simple study of human relationships, delivered through the haze of obscurity in a manner so unique it must be admired, if not entirely understood. MUST SEE.
Nothing describes Klown quite so effectively, nor as damningly, as this: it’s already slated for an American remake to be helmed by Todd Philips and star Danny McBride, and they’re the perfect people for it. Featuring the same pedigree of puerile characters and humour as in Philips’ Hangover movies, it stars comedians Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam in an adaptation of their television series of the same name, widely seen as the Danish answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Constantly finding themselves at the wrong end of an awkward situation, Hvam and Christensen find themselves forced to bring along the young Bo on their planned “tour of pussy” through the countryside when the former must prove his paternal capabilities to his pregnant wife. A slew of crude humour follows, sometimes riotously funny, mostly just juvenile and disconcerting, not least of all the assumption that photographing an insecure child’s genitals is the height of comedy. It really isn’t, and nor is Klown. AVOID IT.
The latest film to arrive from Eduardo Sánchez, co-director of The Blair Witch Project, Lovely Molly seems to cram in a found footage aspect for no better reason than it worked once for Sánchez over a decade ago. The titular young woman, seen in her marriage tapes at the film’s beginning, has an unexplained penchant for videoing her days alone in the home of her youth as her trucker husband travels the roads, the footage of which is interspersed needlessly with Sánchez’s scenes. Alexandra Holden lacks the charisma or conviction to carry the film alone, and much as the late Johnny Lewis may help as her husband, Lovely Molly sorely lacks in the casting department. Far worse is the narrative itself, an almost incomprehensible story of potential possession, past trauma, and mental illness all but indistinguishable from this year’s The Pact. Utterly mystifying in its (lack of) intentions, this is nonsensical tosh from start to end. AVOID IT.
The second Gerard Butler film of the week sees the actor move from convincing Shakespearean portrayal to something a good deal less effective, his performance as religiously reformed biker Sam Childers, who elects to dedicate his life to helping the children of Sudan, a pursuit that invites plentiful familial tension. Seen at the start to be a lecherous drunkard just released from prison, Childers is a positively detestable character, his casual murder of a man early in the film hardly even surprising given his general hideousness. The film’s great mistake is Childers’ rapid, almost instantaneous transformation to a beacon of Godly goodness, his unquestionable sanctity after a baptism ridding him of any complexity that might have made a more interesting watch of Machine Gun Preacher. The complete misuse of Michael Shannon in the supporting cast is a greater crime still, consigning him to a bland role where almost all he ever does is nod. What a waste. AVOID IT.
Given the two terribly conventional and uninventive horror films we’ve already seen this week, Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man looks even more interesting a film than already it was. As is to be expected from the man who gave us the masterful Martyrs, the well-traversed story of a spiritual kidnapper and desperate single mother is not at all what it seems, a mid-film revelation totally flipping the story on its head and ingeniously inviting consideration of the very machinations of horror cinema. It’s such a shame, this inventiveness considered, that The Tall Man is quite so boring before it gets to the point, its opening act so given to defining conventions that it will later break that it completely forgets to hold our attention at the same time. The closing act, too, is steeped in issues, its last-minute social commentary feeling more like afterthought addendum than real insight. The Tall Man is sadly and sorely flawed, but the value of its ingenuity should not be disregarded. WORTH WATCHING.