As it was in 2012, so shall it be for This Week on Demand. Hot on the heels of last week’s limo-based existential journey through an uncanny world of interpretations innumerable in the form of Cosmopolis is a limo-based existential journey through an uncanny world of interpretations innumerable in the form of Holy Motors. It’s certainly the most exciting addition we have on the table this week, but by no means is it the only film to make a fuss about. It’s perhaps the strongest week for animation we’ve yet had, three international offerings forming the backbone of this latest slate and showcasing the wide variety of uses to which the format can be put. Horror is on strong form too, with a classic and a new offering joining forces to attest the genre’s many strengths. In fact, it’s a damn fine week overall, with just one week title to its name and a whole load of greats. Let’s hope next week is quite as enticing: it’s a special occasion, after all.
Like a stylistic and thematic synthesis of The Third Man and Waltz with Bashir, Tomáš Luňák’s adaptation of Jaromír Švejdík’s successful Czech graphic novel exudes the solemn weariness of a world in the wake of war, its mournful noirish ambience almost suffocating in the intensity of its bleakness. Brilliantly playing with the inextricable link of cinema to dreams and memory, Luňák entrenches his eponymous character—the laconic dispatcher in a rural train station—in a cyclical nightmare of self-repression and latent fears, his deep-seated memories of the Second World War standing in for Europe’s at large. Švejdík’s moving score combines with the hypnotic beauty of the rotoscope animation and the entrancing pace of Luňák’s plotting to make of Alois Nebel a film fascinating on every level, as warmly charming as it is strangely sad, as deeply affecting as it is invaluably important. This is a lofty new height for European animation, and indeed cinema at large. MUST SEE.
Invariably fated to be labelled a French Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, All Together joins a group of five continental septuagenarians as they elect to move in together in the wake of various health issues posing a threat to their self-sufficiency. Jane Fonda is an unsurprising point of focus for director Stéphane Robelin, whose primary theses on the vibrancy of the elderly emerge in her conversations with Daniel Brühl, playing a young anthropologist who begins to study this impromptu commune. Light comedy—often of a raunchy nature—abounds as Robelin deals with the obligatory themes of death and decay, his performers each doing their bit to bring some degree of tragicomic gravitas to their characters’ respective issues. It’s an enjoyable piece of work, if somewhat slight; nice as it is to see another film squarely angled toward older audiences, it’s unlikely to revolutionise anyone’s view of the sexual and psychological condition of the elderly. WORTH WATCHING.
It’s little surprise, given the roles of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as producers, that Bachelorette amounts to little more than a lazy effort to emulate the immature comedies characteristic of the duo in the context of a female cast. Headed by Kirsten Dunst, the cast largely copies the interactions of films the like of The Hangover and Old School, the script’s dire efforts to tailor the material to women largely consisting of adding as many references to bulimia as possible. That asking the audience to sympathise with characters who begrudge a friend her wedding day for the simple reason that she’s fatter than them isn’t the worst of Bachelorette’s issues, which says everything about the regressive idiocy on prominent display here. Only Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan manage to make much of the material; their romantic subplot is passably engaging, though given the comic vacuum which surrounds them, that shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an indication of any quality. AVOID IT.
Carrie (Read our full review)
With less than six months to go until its inevitable remake finally lands, now’s a damn fine time to revisit Brian de Palma’s original Carrie, the first film ever to be adapted from a Stephen King work. Almost forty years and at least twice as many adaptations later, it remains one of the finest, its slow-building tale of a repressed girl who uncovers a powerful telekinetic ability—as presented by de Palma’s typical technical mastery—as impactfully strange now as it was on release. Sissy Spacek rightly earned an Oscar nomination for her extraordinary work in the title role; she grounds the supernatural excess into which the plot is wont to devolve with her unrelenting humanity, the awful sadness of her life beautifully communicated in every little glance. It’s a film that functions at once as effectively scary horror and aggressive social commentary, its less-than-subtle anger toward religion’s attitude to women perhaps the greatest purveyor of its reckonable power. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Citadel (Read our full review)
There’s no shock in learning that Ciaran Foy, first-time feature director of dark horror Citadel, himself suffered from the same agoraphobia with which he characterises his protagonist Tommy, the widowed father of a young girl in a rundown urban centre. Foy’s direction brilliantly sells the terror of Tommy’s fears, his camera slowly panning through dark corners and peeking out at the sprawling chaos of the city to replicate the panicked mind of its helpless central character. Aneurin Barnard’s performance is just as crucial to the creation of this immense fear, his shrunken shoulders and sallow face perfectly attesting the terror of a man compelled to protect but powerless to do so. It’s a shame, then, that the narrative can’t quite carry the film to a satisfying conclusion, Foy far less confident in his efforts to incorporate social issues than he is in the creation of his atmosphere. It’s not a great horror, unfortunately, but there’s no doubt it’s scary. RECOMMENDED.
Among the most convincing films to tackle the worldwide recession, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s affecting documentary hones in on paradigmatic Detroit, examining the impact of the financial collapse through impacted autoworkers, city planners, cultural establishments, and—perhaps most fascinatingly—a local businessman who truly believes in capitalism, and truly comes to recognise its role in the crumbling world around. Beautifully paced, the film’s melancholy tone finds subtle expression in the soft score that hums unobtrusively in the background, lending an elegiac sense of sadness to the encroaching fate of the city as it experiences population lows not seen in a century. Ewing and Grady’s decision to remain off-screen and voiceless adds to the film’s remarkable sense of evenness; Detropia’s conclusions may be undoubtedly weighted, but they’re reached through nothing more than simple logic, channelled through stories of profound humanity. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Perhaps best—or rather easiest—described as Friends with Kids, but gay, Gayby sees heterosexual Jenn and homosexual Matt—best friends since the college days, now in their ‘30s—opt to have a child together, the old fashioned way. Simple enough in conceit, it’s in the execution of director Jonathan Lisecki’s script by the talented cast he assembles that Gayby finds its effect, skirting the simplicity of its premise with a steady flow of comic gold. Leads Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas work wonders both together and with the supporting players of their respective subplots, ensuring a comic consistency that keeps the laughs coming no matter how much the plot—which does very little to deviate from standard rom-com formula—begins to seriously sag. Lisecki does much to grab the attention here; he’s a writer of sharp wit who, though consigning himself to a wholly unremarkable story, manages to find humour in every aspect of his deeply real characters. RECOMMENDED.
Holy Motors (Read our full review)
Praised unendingly by critics innumerable as the finest film of 2012—not to mention picking up the latest prestigious Next Projection Award for Best Film—Leos Carax’s disarmingly odd return to feature filmmaking after a 13 year absence is a terrific testament to the wonders and worries of identity—in all forms, among them cinematic and personal—in a world increasingly detached from physical reality. But that’s just my take, and such is the beauty of Holy Motors, its intransigent attitude to its own aloofness allowing one to get just as much from it as has been brought. Centring on Denis Lavant’s stunningly mercurial performance, Carax creates a physical and metaphorical journey that is to each individual viewer something unique, its uncanny episodic structure like an unruly ink blot that refuses to retain one shape. Infuriated Twitter campaign notwithstanding, even the senseless censorship of the film’s bare brilliance here can’t dull its extraordinary impact. MUST SEE.
In Our Nature
Driven entirely by its impressive cast, debut director Brian Savelson’s quiet familial drama finds its power in the work of John Slattery and Zach Gilford as an estranged father who accidentally take their girlfriends to the family vacation home on the same weekend. Treading familiar ground, Savelson does well to keep the drama engaging at all times, his camera creatively capturing the vast space that surrounds the home as an escape from the rising tensions within. The restricted roles afforded Gabrielle Union and Jena Malone as the women are problematic, leaving them to act primarily as catalysts to male bonding, but the actresses make what they can of the characters nonetheless. The trajectory of In Our Nature is foreseeable from the get-go, and little Savelson does shakes up the formula; he’s lucky to have landed so talented a cast, their heavyweight dramatic performances making more of the film than it ever was on paper. WORTH WATCHING.
Tales of the Night (Read our full review)
Composed only of silhouettes enacting their strange international adventures over vividly colourful backdrops, Michel Ocelot’s marvellously attractive Tales of the Night is every bit as wonderful in the things it has to say about the universality of storytelling as it is in the stunning aesthetic impact of its images. Framed by the whimsical tale of three animators attempting to find a story to tell, it’s an episodic invention—composed, in fact, of television episodes cobbled together—that dazzles with the fantastical fun of its unbridled imagination. Sly in its humour, landing sneaky gags like a wink to the adult audience, it’s very much a work for all the family, though the younger kids might find the sustained length of certain episodes a tad tiring. A witty, wonderful paean to the irreverent, irrevocable, international joy of storytelling, Tales from the Night is as sweetly entertaining a family feature as you’re likely to encounter. RECOMMENDED.
Often considered the Eastern equivalent of the graphic novel, the gekiga genre of Japanese comics was born of the demand for something of greater thematic maturity than the then kid-oriented manga. Its creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi is the subject of Eric Khoo’s animated documentary, which uses a retelling of the life of Tatsumi to contextualise the five of his stories Khoo adapts throughout. Often astonishingly dark, it’s easy to see how these tales revolutionised the landscape of manga, their unrelenting adherence to the tough truths of life faithfully captured here in beautiful—and wildly varying—animation styles. The interspersal of the artist’s life and work creates one of the most richly informative biographical films of recent years, managing to brilliantly comment on the effect of one upon the other while upholding the viewers attention with a deft balance of fact and fiction. Khoo is one to watch: Tatsumi is as much a testament to his invention as it is to his subject’s. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Comedy (Read our full review)
A fascinating deconstruction not just of the dominant archetypes of mainstream movie comedy, but also of the universal human defence mechanism of humour, Rick Alverson’s unendingly strange quasi-comedy is an eerily subversive work, an uncomfortably incisive look at us and the strange escapes we find from the realities of life. Centred on a sardonic layabout soon to inherit his father’s estate, The Comedy imbues its lead with the comic characteristics of Ron Burgundy and the like before pulling back to reveal the emptiness of such man-child personae when considered in the context of the wider world. It’s a hugely ambitious project, and one which almost invariably falls flat on its face at times, but Alverson’s achievements—when made—are massive. Some will find The Comedy funny, others will not. What’s interesting is that both groups might well like it equally. What a strange examination of the very nature of comedy is this. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
You’ve Been Trumped
There’s a stunning sense of life as infinitely stranger than fiction as one watches You’ve Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter’s infuriating documentary about Donald Trump’s underhand efforts to get his way and build a massive golf resort on the northwest coast of Scotland. Interspersed with clips from Local Hero—Bill Forsyth’s classic 1983 comedy about an American businessman who arrives in Scotland determined to buy a piece of its coastline whether the local residents like it or not—it’s a film that’s happy to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, but no less driven to outrage at the bullying tactics Trump and his cohorts employ in their efforts to prove that money can buy you anything. A work so honest and important that Trump attempted to sue the BBC for daring to show it, this is a brilliant use of the documentary medium. I urge you to watch it; it’s exactly what Trump wouldn’t want. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.