This Week on Demand: 12/05/2013

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The Scandinavians are coming this week on demand, with Nordic titles comprising almost half the films below. It’s a tempting range, tapping some of the finest Danish talent in cinema today, and offering a strong counterpoint to the comparably flaccid big Hollywood effort on offer. As ever, you should be well equipped to find something to suit your tastes; Jaime and I have waded through horrors and documentary, action and adventure, comedy and drama this week to bring you something to fit your needs. The best here, as indeed in life, is to be found amidst the excesses of depravity. Dig in.


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Antichrist

With Nymphomaniac drawing closer, excitement is beginning to rise as to what transgression we can expect this time from premiere provocateur Lars von Trier. We might gather some idea from Antichrist, the graphic sexual and violent scenes of which attracted as much controversy as they did acclaim on the film’s 2009 release. For all the extremities in which von Trier indulges, however, it is, at heart, a powerful meditation on grief, its story that of a married couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods in the wake of their young child’s death. Working within the framework of horror conventions, von Trier elicits extraordinary performances from Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, pairing them with Anthony Dod Mandle’s expressive digital cinematography to make a movie that is—for all its shock value—often deeply moving. If the unlikely engagement of Antichrist is anything to go by, we should all be awaiting Nymphomaniac very eagerly indeed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Buddy

Before showing Hollywood how great thrillers are really done with Headhunters last year, director Morten Tyldum and lead Aksel Hennie teamed for 2003’s Buddy, a Jackass-inspired comedy of three friends whose television stardom in a daredevil-style show tests the limits of their relationship. Hennie plays second fiddle to Nicolai Cleve Broch, whose Kristoffer is the driving force of the film’s narrative, a relatable good guy with no shortage of romantic issues to deal with. He, Hennie, and Anders Baasmo Christensen play the pals with terrific repartee, their comic chemistry infectiously charming throughout, and even a little touching from time to time. It’s courtesy of the witty script by Headhunters co-scribe Lars Gudmestad that the story’s innumerable clichés are so easily overcome; it will take very little effort to guess the eventual outcome of the plot, but Buddy is less concerned with narrative machinations than it is with making us laugh—and even smile with sweetness—along the way. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Dead Snow

Having gone on to helm Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, it’s clear to see that Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has benefited significantly from the cult fandom that’s evolved around his second feature Dead Snow, which pits a cabin of holidaying students against an arisen army of Nazi zombies in the Norse mountains. It’s a premise bursting at the seams with potential, yet one rarely steered to the full expression thereof in Wirkola’s often plodding dialogue and generally generic sense of plot progression. Where he does excel, however, is in the gory carnage with which the students and zombies both are dispatched, limbs and heads severed with as much gratuitous bloodshed as possible. Indeed, it’s precisely this most viewers will tune in for, so it’s hard to say Dead Snow doesn’t meet expectations, but isn’t it always so disheartening when something so potentially great extends only to the bare minimum? SO-SO. ~RD


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Flame & Citron

If we’re to pin Flame & Citron to as short and reductive a plot description as possible, it might be best to term it the Danish Inglourious Basterds. It’s a far more serious film than that, though, following as it does the inevitably tragic arc of the titular folk heroes, resistance fighters in World War II whose Nazi assassinations earned them—the former in particular—no shortage of German anti-sentiment. The most expensive Danish film ever made at the time of production, it’s a boldly realised vision that meticulously recreates the atmosphere of the time, Ole Christian Madsen’s sleek direction pairing top-tier action with intimate character drama. The film’s greatest successes, though, arrive courtesy of stars Thure Lindhart and Mads Mikkelsen, who mine as much intrigue from the relationship between the man as is possible, making Flame & Citron the tale of a partnership first, a thrilling historical action film second. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Hit and Run

The man may get a lot of flack, but I admire the perseverance of Dax Shepard. Well, one could call it that. He’s come a long way from his reality TV upbringings, and while he may not succeed all the time with his new filmmaking projects, the man tries. His enthusiasm alone is kind of intoxicating. His new effort—in which he stars, writes and co-directs—has him playing a former getaway driver trying to start a new life with his love (played by his real-life fiancée Kristen Bell). He loves her so much he’s willing to throw away his witness protection status for her. But things get sticky when old criminal buddies from his past—led by a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper… and you think about that sentence—show up to get in the way. It’s funny enough to be a time killer, and charming enough to make you not regret it. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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House at the End of the Street (full review)

Let’s forget for a second that this could be a potential Psych knock-off. Let’s forget that this project went through its own little development hell since 2003. On the surface, and with its intentions lying around, House at the End of the Street looks like it has potential. It’s got a decent cast with a solid lead actress (Jennifer Lawrence), and the development of the story came from solid filmmaker Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, U-571). The opening act has some semblance of interest, but it’s almost as if the movie starts to realize that the mask of allure can only be held to the face for so long. Almost in a plummeting motion, House at the End of the Street goes from promise to poor. The screenplay loses control, the clichés hit hard and any sense of direction flees and heads for the hills. And then it becomes the one thing a movie should never, ever be. It becomes utterly boring. AVOID IT. ~JB


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Kill List

Ideally timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Sightseers this week, the arrival of director Ben Wheatley’s Kill List on Netflix is sure to extend his considerable cult fandom yet further. By far one of the most effectively oppressive horror films released in recent years, it takes its cues from British social realism before exploding in a torrent of terror that, somehow, sustains itself across the following 90 minutes. The haunting glare of lead Neil Maskell is paramount to this effect, as is to the transfixing combination of eerie sound design and striking cinematography Wheatley conducts to assault our senses at every step. Featuring explosions of extemporaneous violence frightening enough to make Drive look like Mary Poppins, Kill List excels at unnerving the viewer, doing its all to make the viewing experience as uncomfortable as possible. And oh what discomfort it is: rarely are horror films so horrifying; rarely are we so scared to move from our seats. MUST SEE. ~RD


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The Inbetweeners Movie (Read our full review)

Conforming entirely to the age-old tradition of British sitcoms packing their cast off to another country for a big-screen outing, The Inbetweeners Movie fortunately avoids the frequent drop in quality which usually accompanies such efforts. True, this feature outing for the characters—four teenagers at the end of their school years, unlucky in love and just about everything else too—is nothing great, but fans of the show will be fully sated by the hijinks that ensue, often of the gross-out variety. Directed by series helmer Ben Palmer, it’s an experience that loses absolutely nothing from being seen on the big screen; the draw here is the comedy, well sustained by show creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris’ script, packed with a good deal more hits than misses. The entirely predictable plot arc, to its credit, still manages to infuse some heart, and provides an appropriate send-off for a perfectly enjoyable TV phenomenon. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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The Sorcerer and the White Snake (full review)

Few—if indeed any—of last year’s films offered anything as utterly unhinged as The Sorcerer and the White Snake, a ludicrously oddball effort from Jet Li that sees him play off any number of bizarrely bad CGI monsters. Drawing on ancient Chinese mythology, the story of a herbalist who falls in love with a shape-shifting demon provides the requisite narrative around which to shape this baffling barrage of sub-par visual effects that variously ensnare and entangle the cast, who do their best to look convincing against the green screens. So deep is the film’s desire to reach the Lord of the Rings audience that it simply steals one of the trilogy’s most formidable battle scenes, shamelessly trying to be a much better movie than it could ever dream of. And yet for all its many, many flaws, The Sorcerer and the White Snake is so relentlessly zany that it’s almost worthy of a recommendation. Almost. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Walk Away Renee

A semi-sequel to his festival hit Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette’s Walk Away Renee wisely assumes its viewers won’t have seen the earlier documentary. It, released in 2003, was a bravado piece of filmmaking, a visceral, experimental effort that sought to cinematically convey the mental illness that had defined the life of Caouette’s mother and the burden that had placed on their relationship. Walk Away Renee by contrast, catching up with the pair in the interim decade, is far more conventional in its structure, and much less effective for it, as clear reconstructions and even some invention becomes easily apparent. Still, there’s a great deal of emotional material to be exploited here, and even if his methods are conspicuous, Caouette employs them for admirable purposes. Deeply flawed though it may be, Walk Away Renee remains a touching and troubling portrait of mental illness and its strains. 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.