This Week on Demand: 21/04/2013

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It’s always been at the heart of This Week on Demand to make those who like to sit at home and watch movies from the comfort of their own couch feel as catered for as those who rush forth to the theatres on opening weekend. In continuing efforts to better facilitate such streaming viewers, we’ll be expanding the scope of our VOD coverage in the coming weeks with in-depth looks at high profile Netflix debuts coming courtesy of our talented team of writers. Everything from the biggest-budgeted blockbuster to the tiniest little indie documentary will continue to find a home right here at This Week on Demand, however, and to that end I’d like to welcome Jaime Burchardt aboard, who’ll be working with me to bring to you as many of the worthwhile new releases as two men can possibly manage. Let’s get streaming.


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A Whisper to a Roar

Documentaries are a powerful tool in the arsenal of cinematic movement. When it’s done right, oh man can it be an eye opener. When it’s not, disappointment can overcome quite harshly. A documentary that fails isn’t the same kind of sight as a movie that fails: it’s heartbreaking… but sympathy shouldn’t be an excuse. The main topic in A Whisper to a Roar is compelling enough: the power of freedom, especially the freedom of the press, and the freedom to voice your opinion. We’re taken to five parts of the world—Ukraine, Venezuela, Egypt, Malaysia and Zimbabwe—that encounter such troubles. The intentions are there, and it’s even accompanied by some slick animation sequences narrated by Alfred Molina, but despite the wealth of content that sits on his lap, writer/director Ben Moses just doesn’t know how to handle it properly. What should have been a typed message of importance becomes a sloppy letter written in RoseArt crayons—not even Crayola. AVOID IT. ~JB


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Bill Cunningham New York

A documentary almost as joyous and inspiring as its subject, Bill Cunningham New York follows the fashion photographer as he combs the streets of the Big Apple in search of the latest clothing trends, bearing witness to the relentless zeal with which he goes about his work. Living in a tiny apartment crammed with filing cabinets, eating only inexpensive store-bought meals, Cunningham is a man who has identified what matters to him in life and focuses on it unyieldingly. Director Richard Press—commissioned by the NY Times, for which Cunningham works—spends the great majority of the film in consultation with Cunningham’s many friends and subject in search of some deeper understanding of the man behind the camera. His great finding, and the remarkable truth that makes this documentary such an uplifting evocation of the spirit of this man, is that his work truly is his life: here is a man who, can you imagine, really is happy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Drop Dead Fred

Extraordinarily juvenile, utterly ridiculous, relentlessly stupid, and really quite silly. These are the qualities of Ate de Jong’s Drop Dead Fred that make it such a magnificent blast of a film, its unashamed childishness of tone joining the simply sweet narrative to remind us that we all need to act younger than we are sometimes. Starring Phoebe Cates as a cuckolded young woman and Rik Mayall as the childhood imaginary friend who reappears to help rescue her life, it’s a brilliantly bizarre cocktail of absurdism and crude humour, all masking the oddly sad story of an aimless life lived in the shadow of authority and society’s preordained directions. Mayall’s many manic antics are the natural highlight here, as good a foil as Cates makes: it is his eccentricities which linger long after viewing, his gleefully giddy performance which is so inextricably linked with the appeal of this oft-undervalued gem. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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House of Bodies

House of Bodies just might be one of the best examples of boredom ever. The end result is a shiny card of actors and actresses having way, way too much time on their hands. Even though the flick proudly advertises that it stars Terrence Howard, Peter Fonda and Queen Latifah—who also executive produced—all three of them look bemused and tiresome, and for good reason. It’s already criminal enough when a slasher prances around without a clue in the world. It’s another thing when the people behind the scenes can’t even get the B-Horror Playbook right. Shoddy editing, misplaced musical cues and an opening credits scene that’ll make you shake your head in shame: honestly it’s a miracle I even got that far. And there’s no reward if you do, just some pretty painful filmmaking. One positive aspect though: it’s short. I mean if you sat through it, you’d only lose about 78 minutes of sleep. Choose sleep. AVOID IT. ~JB


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Morgana

By the time the eponymous heroine of Morgana awakens from the nightmare which begins the film, we’re already fully aware that she’s only dreaming. Dream sequences are such a characteristic element of horror cinema, and have been so for so long now, that only the strongest of filmmakers can manage to deliver them with any deal of conviction. Ramón Obón, for all his efforts, is not one such director; he makes his way through the horror trope checklist as though there were a reward for ticking off the lot. Atop a maelstrom of worn narrative and stylistic clichés, we have the unbearable addition of hammy performances and humdrum dialogue; alongside the endless recycling of scare tactics we’ve seen a thousand times before there is the hopelessly inept effort at cinematic storytelling. Morgana is a film that hasn’t a single original idea in its head, nor even the slightest clue how to coherently relate its stolen ones. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


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Mr. Bean’s Holiday

Subscribe though it might to the all-too-prevalent tendency for British sitcoms to send their characters on vacation in big-screen outings, Mr. Bean’s Holiday finds a good deal more success than most of its forebears. Perhaps it’s due to the same internationality that made the television show such a worldwide hit; emulating Jacques Tati with no uncertain debt, Rowan Atkinson makes of Bean a bumbling buffoon who’s nonetheless extremely endearing as he shuffles his way across France having won a trip to Cannes. Amid an admittedly trying quantity of camera mugging from Atkinson, the film does have a satirical slap or two to offer, cheekily poking fun at the moviemaking establishment, no better than through the delightful work of Willem Dafoe as a self-important art house director. This is very mild comedy with nothing lofty to aim for, but it hits its marks consistently and keeps the laughs coming. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


New York I Love You movie poster

New York I Love You

Following up the success of 2007’s Paris, je t’aime, producer Emmanuel Benbihy refashioned the idea—that of a multitude of directors each contributing one short on the theme of love—for an American context with New York I Love You in 2009. Where the French film was a charming and witty affair with only one or two failures to detract from its successes, this American outing is the precise opposite, the great majority of its segments lacking in the extreme and leaving the handful of decent offerings to pick up the slack, which they’re simply not good enough to do. With neither as impressive a cast nor crew of directors as the earlier film suggesting diminishing returns even before a frame was filmed, this uneven mixture suggests a dismal future for Benbihy’s “cities of love” series. On the evidence of New York I Love You that may well be a good thing; perhaps Paris was only a happy accident. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Paranorman

Love-fueled horror clashing with kid flicks has always been interesting. But adding that pesky ingredient of humanity to the equation? The results are, to put it simply, unknown. Filmmakers Chris Butler and Sam Fell were brave enough to brew all three together, and Paranorman is something to truly be treasured. Norman is a misunderstood boy who just happens to see ghosts. He’s ignored by his family and bullied … until the huge responsibility of saving the town from certain doom falls upon him. Paranorman has a fantastic sense of humor and admiration for the genres it pays tribute to, but the aspect of humanity is what makes it remarkable. When things get brutally serious for our hero, the reality of it isn’t lightened. It’s approached with boldness, and also with tenderness. The emotional joy ride concludes with a fantastic last shot as well. This may not be the most popular of opinions, but I truly feel Paranorman was the best animated film of 2012. MUST SEE. ~JB


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Safe

After losing everything dear to him in life, ex-cop Luke Wright (Jason Statham) becomes a hopeless wanderer in New York City until the moment he meets Mei, a little girl that is hunted down by every corrupt and ruthless soul in the city. It’s now up to him to protect her before she and the mental key she possesses fall into the wrong hangs. Safe has a hell of a hook, and Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) has a rich background of fusing action and drama. With that, it has a stellar first half, creating the necessary momentum. I wish the same could be same for the second half. The more the reasoning is explained and expanded, the more it begins to lose its focus until it hits the point where you realize that the idea tank might be completely dry. Although the very end may raise the occasional eyebrow, at least the journey to it wasn’t all in vain. SO-SO. ~JB


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The Woman Who Wasn’t There

So many extraordinary survival tales emerged in the wake of 9/11, so many miraculous escapes from seemingly-certain death, so many unlikely instances of luck in a scenario seemingly devoid of it. Tania Head’s was a truly unbelievable story, and fittingly so: not a word of it was true. Posing as a survivor of the attach after arriving in the US from Mexico in 2003, Head gradually rose the ranks to president of a survivors network, gradually garnering more and more influence and using it to… to do the job, really. Angelo Guglielmo’s TV documentary struggles to understand Head and the reasons for her deception; seemingly out to harm nobody she brings to mind the eventual subject of Catfish in her strangely sad story. The Woman Who Wasn’t There isn’t nearly as good a movie as that, but it does try. It’s no surprise that there aren’t many answers here; oddities like this can only ever leave us with questions. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.

  • Besides Paranorman, which I still need to see, this looks like one sad week of releases.

  • LOL.. I was thinking the same thing. The only one I want to see is Paranorman.

  • Nooooo, you should all watch Bill Cunningham New York too! It made me all tingly.

  • Hmmmmmm… Just might have to check it out then.