It seems so petty now to have complained of lacking quality last week… This latest edition of This Week on Demand may be the weakest the series has ever seen, even the finest film of the batch bearing considerably evident flaws. It’s a good week for those seeking to catch up on 2012 releases, at least, all but one of the below-listed films having reached the majority of markets this year. That’s the kind of content we can expect in the run up to year’s end: welcome news for those among us looking to pick up the slack from key films of the year so far missed.
One of a surprise two foreign language nominees for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars earlier this year—the other, Chico & Rita, was featured right here just recently—Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s vibrant cartoon vaults through the landscape of the Parisian night, tracing the path of the titular feline as he joins a nocturnal jewel thief in his nightly escapades. Lasting barely longer than an hour, A Cat in Paris’ almost entirely dialogue-free narrative concerns the efforts of Zoé, the animal’s young owner, to aid her police investigator mother in the apprehension of the mobster who murdered her father. Rather mature in its scope, the literal and thematic darkness considered, Felicioli and Gagnol’s story wisely also includes a good scattering of comic moments, visual gags aplenty packed in among its lushly detailed frames. A Cat in Paris is a delightful treat, a wittily fun adventure that never panders to its young target audience. RECOMMENDED.
Ever the fascinating filmmaker, Richard Linklater fuses fiction and documentary with Bernie, the tailored retelling of the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, a funeral director whose increasingly intimate relationship with a newly-widowed woman slowly begins to define his life. Jack Black does what may well be his best work to date in the title role, imbuing Bernie with the sort of complexity and compassion the character depends on for the film to take its effect. Laughable but never piteous, comic yet never caricatured, Black is an excellent centre for this amusing story, well assured in carrying its often jet black comedy. Though played by actors, the townspeople Linklater “interviews” bring much to the film, both in terms of comic contribution and a sense of corroboration. It’s the sort of story so strange it must be true; indeed, the truth holds it back, its denouement a rather flat end to an enjoyably mad and twisted tale. RECOMMENDED.
We’ve made it through a great many VOD titles in these columns, paved our way through the highs and lows of streaming cinema, and scarcely have we reached lower than Crazy Eyes. How dubious an honour, to so stand out among the near-400 movies now reviewed under the This Week on Demand banner: it’s almost an achievement to be quite that deplorable. Lukas Haas is the Hollywood millionaire obsessed with the sexual conquest of a beautiful woman whom he refers to by the eponymous sobriquet, a goal hindered by her sassy flirtations and refusal to comply with his bestial desires. That he’s quite so hideous a character—bad parenting, alcoholism, general rudeness also dwell within him in significant quantities—is no real issue; that the film seems determined to have us root for him truly is. Its “funniest” scene is that wherein our hero, as we’re to consider him, resorts to attempted rape to get his way. How witty. UNWATCHABLE.
Detract though they may from immersion within the story, we tend to forgive films the failings of poor production values and inexperienced cast members when such problems at least work in service of tackling important issues. It’s certainly the case with Haifa, an endearingly odd—if unprofessionally made—Palestinian view of the conflict there continuing to rage. Debuting at Cannes in 1996, the film examines the fortunes of the Palestinian in allegorical fashion, its central family acting as a microcosmic playground through which director Rashid Masharawi espouses his views on the plight of his people. Surprisingly light and funny, Haifa is named for a strange character who potters about filling the film and its characters with laughter at the same time he embodies the sheer madness of the surrounding events. Marred perhaps by slight oversimplification in its basic metaphorical structure, Haifa is a film important enough in intention to overcome its storytelling and cinematic shortcomings. WORTH WATCHING.
Love him or loath him, you just can’t deny that Luc Besson knows what his audience wants. Lockout, the latest gun-toting action to bear his name in the form of an ever ironic “based on an original idea by” credit, sees Guy Pearce in an enjoyably gruff lead role, echoing Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in his quick-witted comebacks. Charged with the murder of a fellow operative when he discovers the identity of a high-level mole, Pearce’s CIA agent is sentenced to a stay in a space-station cryo-prison, the same prison where the president’s daughter just happens at that moment to be kidnapped by a rowdy gang of sexually starved and accidentally released inmates. Stuffed with painfully expository dialogue, overly-familiar story tropes, and one too many meaningless characters, Lockout is exactly the tripe it intends to be without any of the action thrills it strives for, its oddly inept CGI robbing it even of a trace of visual fun. AVOID IT.
Review to follow
Expanded from a well-received Sundance short of the same name, The Pact struggles to conceal its origins, the limitations of such a small reservation of source material abundantly clear in the drawn-out dullness of the feature. Telling the tale of a woman who investigates the disappearance of her sister and cousin in her late mother’s home, Nicholas McCarthy finds much difficulty in a rather plain cast and a positively soporific pacing. With supernatural chills, serial killer thrills, and vague traumatic childhood memories bustling about in spades, McCarthy has bitten off way more than he can chew in his debut feature, his uninspired visual style hardly helping distract from the many issues that befall his script. Only the intimidatingly creepy efforts of Haley Hudson as an oddball psychic bring anything in the way of effective horror to bear, all else a staid and stilted succession of wannabe scares. AVOID IT.
Astoundingly just the first Filipino film ever to receive a theatrical release in the United States, Yam Laramas’ generation-hopping horror opens with an impressively foreboding series of images of an abandoned dirt road, beautifully shot against the backdrop of a setting sun. A keen visual sensibility marks the film throughout, its story of a police upstart’s journey to solve the deaths and disappearances of two sets of sisters across a twenty year divide captured in assuredly cinematic style. What shame that Laramas is so much more talented a director than a writer: great as The Road looks, its trisected narrative structure only serves to further and further complicate an overly-familiar and uninterestingly rendered mystery story. Deliberately invoking new questions at the end of each act to facilitate a subsequent leap back in time, Laramas construes a plot complex beyond comprehension, and yet just not all that compelling. SO-SO.
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles finds a new lease of life in Trishna, Michael Winterbottom’s ambitious, alluring modernisation. The transplantation of Hardy’s novel to an Indian context is a strange move, but a rewarding one, that country’s duality—caught between progress and tradition—providing a fine backdrop against which to set a relationship fraught by gender and class divides. Brimming with the eminent optimism and hopefulness of youth, Freida Pinto brings a contained vibrancy to the titular character, a trait that proves invaluable to the draining effect of her character arc. Better yet is Riz Ahmed, whose ability to move from endearing playboy to hideous chauvinist underlines his excellence as an actor. Winterbottom doesn’t quite manage to sell the characters’ evolutions fully, their paths seeming overly contrived and contrary, yet such are the performances that the affecting emotion overshadows what few issues its expression encounters. RECOMMENDED.