This Week on Demand: 05/05/2013



Another month, another overwhelming addition of titles to the Netflix database. Those distraught by the massive loss of movies which began May for Instant subscribers should be able to relax now that many such contracts have already been renewed; look at it like this: if they renewed The Mysterious Mr. Wong, you can be sure they didn’t let anything valuable go. A number of titles from distrubutor Film Movement bring a nice bunch of world cinema titles for your eyes this week, as well as the typical handful of modern greats. Thanks, as ever, to the wonderful Jaime Burchardt for his help in covering the deluge; were he running the show, this column would not be as overdue as it is.



The road movie, by definition, is traditionally a genre associated with mobility, a trait French comedians Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine subvert to comic effect in their shared directorial debut Aaltra. Starring as rival Belgian farmers who together travel to Finland to demand compensation from the eponymous company whose faulty equipment costs them the use of their legs early in the film, de Kervern and Delépine knowingly invert genre conventions with terrific wit, their sharp plays on formula raising almost as much laughter as the deadpan absurdity of so much of this story. Simply shot in black and white, it’s an aesthetically unambitious but nonetheless handsome work that likes to frame its characters in static long shots that highlight the original oddity of this tale, making all the funnier their bizarre journey across a continent and the brilliantly delivered punch line on which, true to subversive form, it concludes. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Ae Fond Kiss

With their eleventh collaboration—The Angels’ Share—released this year, writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach have evidently forged a strong relationship across their years together. 2004’s Ae Fond Kiss, their fifth pairing, sees the duo perfecting the riotous comedy and socially-conscious drama that has come to define their films. Something of a variation on All That Heaven Allows, it depicts the religiously-oriented tensions that fray the burgeoning romance between an Irish Catholic teacher and her Pakistani Muslim boyfriend. Laverty’s colourfully witty dialogue and Loach’s social realist direction keep the film evenly pitched between light-hearted romance and bleak tragedy, the differences in faith and the difficulties they cause as heart-breaking to bear witness to as they are hilarious. Despite flares of melodrama that detract from the engagement of the sympathy, Ae Fond Kiss is an absorbing and elegiac treatment of forbidden love, and one of Laverty and Loach’s many significant successes. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Bad Day to Go Fishing

A penchant for dark comedy seems to characterise contemporary Uruguayan cinema, most particularly seen in the films of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll—25 Watts and Whisky—and also aptly evidenced in Bad Day to Go Fishing, the directorial debut of short filmmaker Álvaro Brechner. A charming tale of a touring strongman and his scheming manager, it’s not unworthy of comparison to The Wrestler, nor indeed to certain aspects of Rocky III, a film to which it’s thankfully a good deal superior. Gary Piquer and Jouko Ahola are excellent in their roles, respectively imbuing their characters with serpentine sleaze and kindly childishness; both performers are crucial to the creation of the multifarious dynamic on which the entire film is hinged. Terrifically funny throughout, and never afraid to push itself in darker directions, Bad Day to Go Fishing is another fine debut from the increasingly impressive Uruguayan cinema. RECOMMENDED. ~RD



Robert Zemeckis; Neil Gaiman; Ray Winstone; Anthony Hopkins: the list of the talents involved in Beowulf goes on and on. Every single one of these people has done works that range from impressive to downright awe-inspiring. Who would have thought that when they all combined forces to recreate one of the most epic poems ever written, that they all would chalk this one up in the “fail” category. Honestly, to say this movie failed is to show it kindness. For years I’ve always told myself that maybe I’m being too hard on the cinematic incarnation of my favorite poem of all time. Alas, it deserves all the harshness it has received. The movie is plagued with poor decisions, the biggest being the turnaround of the story, downgrading the importance of honor and bravery into a showcase of weakness and woefulness. That’s not what the poem was about, and the filmmakers should have known better. AVOID IT. ~JB


Big Night

Following on from The Impostors’ Netflix arrival, Stanley Tucci’s directorial debut, taken with that later effort, does much to attest the chameleonic actor’s equal versatility as a director. Where that film offered a variety of comic stylings ranging from the slapstick to the absurd, Big Night instead maintains a particular façade of caricature that gradually erodes to reveal a depth of character, surprisingly less for its strength than for the realisation that it was there all along. Brilliantly performed by an impressive ensemble including Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, and more, it’s an exhibition of acting talent as exceptional as they come. Tucci’s fondness for a long take permeates the film, offering no end of stunning shots—executed with consummate confidence and choreography—that trace the action through multiple locations and lives as he tells his story of Italian-born brothers struggling desperately to live the American Dream. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD



The digital revolution, and its subsequent evolution, is so fast-moving a phenomenon that any efforts to encapsulate the expansion of the internet must surely be damned to soon be dated. That’s the unfortunate case for Hideo Nakata’s Chatroom, an interesting but almost immediately outdated examination of teenage angst against the backdrop of the eponymous social networking scene, which seemed obsolete already by the film’s 2010 release. It’s largely for this that the film was so widely rebuked, not an unfair criticism but one which does do a disservice to certain nuances to be found amidst its exploration of loneliness and the benefits and drawbacks of online anonymity. Realising the digital interactions in three-dimensional space, Nakata brings visual intrigue to a script that is, for all its intent, often melodramatic and overwrought. But it’s the cast, headed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, that grounds the drama in an emotional reality that manages, for all the abstraction, to continually resonate. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD



There’s a reason why Chinatown is considered a classic, and whether you love or hate him, there’s a reason why director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) is considered one of the all-time greats. Lowbrow private detective J.J. Gittes, intensely played by Jack Nicholson, is given the job of looking into what seems to be a routine case involving some adultery. But the deeper he digs, the more he realizes that he’s now involved in something much, much bigger. The combined efforts of Robert Towne’s scowling yet sensational screenplay—which won him an Oscar for his brilliant words—and Polanski’s dominant direction bring a different sense of vitality to the game of film noir. To be able to do such a thing in a genre that’s not easy to please or be pleased is worthy of praise. From the nostalgic open credits to those famous last words, Chinatown is a ride that’ll break you, and then reform your love of cinema. MUST SEE. ~JB



Having made his name with the brooding Dutch drama The Vanishing, director George Sluizer went on to all-but-destroy that reputation with his own critically-reviled Hollywood remake. He followed that misstep with another in the form of 1996’s Crimetime, an intelligently conceived but appallingly executed crime thriller starring Steven Baldwin as an actor on a television reconstruction programme for whom the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur. There’s much to be explored in this concept, and Sluizer seems for a while to mine the material for the considerable depth it offers, but tonal uncertainty, uneven casting, and surprisingly shoddy filmmaking sees all promise rapidly evaporate. Baldwin is a perfectly decent leading man, strongly supported by a mysterious Pete Postlethwaite, yet the efforts of each are in vain as Sluizer struggles to decide between psychological thriller, romantic drama, and comic satire. Crimetime is a shameful mess, all the more so for the great movie it might have been. AVOID IT. ~RD



Another prime exemplar of that particular brand of dark comedy to which Uruguayan cinema of late seems so inclined, Gigante addresses issues of voyeurism in its story of a late-shift supermarket security guard who grows to obsess over a member of the cleaning staff. At times unsettling, it’s more with a veneer of cute comedy that first-time feature director Adrián Biniez tells this tale, teasing a frankly adorable portrayal from the oversized Horacio Camandule, whose only prior credit comes from one of Biniez’s shorts. Few performers this inexperienced manage to create characters this engrossing; it’s the ultimate testament to Camandule’s effectiveness in the role that we forgive him the abundant creepiness of his character. We forgive the film, too, when it fails to explore this in as much depth as it should, the sheer sweetness of its romance—Leonor Svarcas is wonderful as the cleaner—enough to carry it above and beyond its flaws. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Into the Wild

Since debuting as a director with 1991’s The Indian Runner, Sean Penn has gone on to prove himself perhaps as talented behind the camera as he is before it, emerging every few years to deliver a measured and ultimately magnificent tale of isolated individuals on the fringes of society. Into the Wild, his latest such effort, concerns the true-life tale of Christopher McCandless, a privileged college graduate whose disillusionment with modern society led him to give up his possessions and wander the United States in search of something more meaningful in life. Aided by a breathtaking soundtrack by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Penn finds immense beauty in his panoramic landscape shots to support the romanticism of McCandless’ journey, but never without an undercurrent of scepticism at the undoubted folly of his ideals. Emile Hirsch has scarcely been better, nor the incredible supporting cast gathered around him, including a spellbinding and deservedly Oscar-nominated Hal Holbrook. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


John Dies at the End (Read our full review)

With John Dies at the End, it’s become pretty apparent that writer/director Don Coscarelli (the Phantasm franchise, Bubba Ho-Tep) has no interest, nor ever will, in making a normal movie. Ever. And we should be thankful for that. Even though it’s rough around the edges—it could have used a different kind of pace—his newest decent into winsome madness has more than enough charisma to appeal to the strange and the strange-at-heart. It’s a lot like that weird guy who comes from behind the curtains just before the start of the show: you have no idea what he’s about to say or show you, but you just get the vibe that it’s going to be engrossing. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes, the film’s leads who play two best friends who become entangled with dark forces after taking a new street drug, bring the flick’s worth home with their homegrown performances. RECOMMENDED. ~JB



A cinematic provocateur par excellence, Gaspar Noé has forged a formidable career characterised by brutal violence and transgressive subject matter. Irreversible was the film that launched him to art house superstardom in a haze of controversy, its combination of an unconventional narrative structure and a punishing excess of extremely graphic scenes of violence and rape earning it a reputation that remains, more than a decade on, as notorious as ever. Brilliantly directed, it exhibits the most formidable aspects of Noé’s punishing cinematic style, its discomfiting colour palette and visceral audience provocation key to his layered treatise on our relationship to violence and vengeance. Implementing its reverse-chronological narrative to incredible effect, Irreversible stands as a work of sublime storytelling, the extraordinary difficulty it places upon the viewer as rewarding as it is tasking, its relentlessly nihilistic violence as necessary and important as it is unendingly disturbing. MUST SEE. ~RD


Pulp Fiction

I hardly need say much in support of Pulp Fiction, a film by now so indelibly intertwined with popular culture as to be impossible not to have experienced at some point, in some form. Even without having seen the film—unthinkable as that is—almost every person connected to the modern world will be familiar with its multitude of famous lines, scenes, and characters. It’s undoubtedly the purest distillation of Tarantino’s pulpy proclivities, melding the inspiration of exploitation with the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema and forging, in its endless witty quips and postmodern playfulness, an extremely entertaining ride. Not without its drawbacks—and I say this well aware of the jeers I’m earning—it hasn’t the maturity, restraint, or depth of character to match a clearly superior film like Jackie Brown; what it does have, though, is a boundless energy that’s ensured its survival as an indomitable icon of popular culture. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Street Fighter

Based on the popular video game of… you know what? You darn well know what movie this is. It’s famous (or infamous) for a lot of things: being part of the continuation of the ‘90s trend to have Jean-Claude van Damme be in everything; being a big part of the reason why writer/director Steven E. de Souza—most famous for being on the Die Hard writing crew—has not directed a movie since its release in 1994; and the biggest one of all, being the last performance the late, great Raul Julia ever gave on screen. Most people would look at these factors as a negative. I don’t, though. The movie doesn’t have a single serious, probable bone in its body. And you can tell that, like a well-rounded person (ha!), it loves itself for who, or what, it is. I mean the first five minutes alone are worth a spit take. It’s something you have to watch if you’re in a ridiculous mood. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


The Cabin in the Woods (Read our full review)

I just realized that it’s been roughly five years since the existence of The Cabin in the Woods was announced. That’s insane. Five years since a promise was made by writer/producer Joss Whedon (Serenity, The Avengers) and director Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield): “This is the horror movie to end all horror movies”. Their words, more or less. And after being released over two years ago theatrically, the decision of whether or not they kept their promise at 100% capacity is still being debated. What’s not, however, is that it’s one of the best things to happen to the horror genre in years. Scary, fast-paced and ingenious in its ideals and delivery, The Cabin in the Woods—the product of a dying company’s last efforts—is nothing short of spectacular. Especially that third act. Holy CENSORED. Oh yeah, I won’t even dare say what it’s about. Just see it. MUST SEE. ~JB


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.

  • Irreversible is one of my favourite films. A definite MUST SEE!