This Week on Demand: 19/05/2013

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Courtesy of our good friends at Studiocanal, a whole host of Anglophonic oldies are dumped on Instant shores this week, forgotten catalogue items from the ‘50s and ‘60s offering some spectacularly old-fashioned looks at the Britain of times gone by. Anglophobes need not worry, however: there’s plenty else for you to examine, from the typical independent American offerings—gay cinema has a strong showing—to a selection of international treats and even a Hollywood comedy too. Don’t say you’re not spoiled for choice.


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August

An earnest, emotionally charged story of a relationship placed under strain by the arrival of one half’s ex, August has the benefit of sharp direction and a talented cast to its name, but hasn’t the drama to sustain itself across its hundred minutes. No doubt the major reason for this is its origin in writer/director Eldar Rapaport’s own earlier short film, which—at just 14 minutes—will no doubt have functioned with a good deal more momentum. As it is, August offers pretty pictures of pretty people, but disappointingly little insight into the true machinations of their minds. His craft honed in advertising, Rapaport is an immensely talented visualist, never better seen than in a stirring late sex scene where the aesthetic says absolutely everything the characters do not; had he the skill to match this visual invention with superior scripting, he might have made of August something a good deal more interesting. SO-SO. ~RD


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Dragon (Read our full review)

As much a film of two halves as ever there was, Peter Chan’s Dragon changes gear midway through its running time, largely abandoning the wowing martial arts choreography of star Donnie Yen in favour of a more thematically-rich and atmospheric moodiness. It’s a play that thankfully pays off, easily enriching this tale of a retired warrior and the detective who uncovers his secret former life, and the moral conundrums they come to explore together. Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro make for hugely engaging leads, equally adept in the multiple fight scenes and the more dramatically-inclined moments of character exploration. Strong as it is in other departments, though, Dragon has less to say about its ostensible themes than it seems to think, turning its head toward broader issues without ever managing really to say much about them at all. The impressive fight scenes and engaging performances, nevertheless, do their all to make up for this absence. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Emile

Beginning with an abundance of similarities to Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, a serious issue for any film to have to overcome, Emile does well to carve out its own identity as a touching study of bitter regret. Starring Ian McKellen as a Sjöström-esque professor protagonist who travels from his London home to accept an honorary degree at his Canadian alma mater, it’s less a road movie than Bergman’s film, more content to allow its drama unfold in the home of Debra Kara Unger’s disillusioned niece character. A dreamy aesthetic complete with hazily-shot close-ups permeates the film and makes slightly less jarring the integration of multiple flashback sequences, which flesh out the characters’ backstory well alongside McKellen’s charismatically rueful stares into space. It’s not without its problems, Unger’s poorly-scripted issues chief among them, but Emile is never not an engaging watch, its skilled leads carrying it above and beyond the material’s flaws. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Freaky Deaky

The adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s works—Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, 3:10 to Yuma—has an overall solid streak of success. While I wouldn’t quite chalk Freaky Deaky up along with such titles, it sure does try its best. We’re talking about a radical tale, set in 1970s Detroit, that features a tired cop, a rapist in love, some really out-there scenarios, and a whole lot of bomb love. Literally. The story is all over the place, and writer/director Charles Matthau—son of the late, great Walter Matthau—fell in love with that aspect a bit too much. Most of the time the flick has a difficult time grasping a worthy pace, and its inconsistency becomes its worst enemy. But one thing Matthau did splendidly was directing an awesome cast, including Billy Burke, Christian Slater, Michael Jai White and Crispin Glover. SO-SO. ~JB


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Inhale

This movie is made of underrated, practically undiscovered talent… but I won’t get ahead of myself. Inhale tells the story of Paul and Diane Stanton (Dermot Mulroney and Diane Kruger), a desperate married couple looking for an organ transplant for their dying daughter. While the type of story is already familiar, there are always different avenues filmmakers can take with it. The script starts on something solid, and then loses focus… big time. The two aspects that keep it from going in a complete downward spiral are Mulroney’s acting and the direction of Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband, the upcoming 2 Guns). Mulroney falls into the underrated category. Through thick and thin, he gives a fantastic performance. Kormákur’s problem is that he needs to find better writers to work with. His current work, so far, is showing that he’s going on that right path, because with a bit of tooling, we could be looking at the makings of a darn fine filmmaker. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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In Her Skin

Writer/director Simone North makes her directorial debut here, but she’s no stranger to the world of compelling drama (she has nearly 20 years of TV work under her belt). The transition from the small to the big screen is always a challenge, but picking a true-life story to make your debut with? That’s downright brutal, and after watching In Her Skin, that was probably the game plan all along. Based on a tragic tale of a 15-year-old girl gone missing, Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto shine as a married couple who go through the great horrific nightmare, and become more and more disturbed as they dig deep into the possibilities of their daughter’s disappearance. However, if we’re being honest, the prize of standing out belongs to Ruth Bradley, who plays a babysitter to the child that may not be all that she seems. It’s unforgiving, unflinching, and it will draw you in. I can’t wait to see what North does next. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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Isn’t Life Wonderful!

Very much a comedy of manners, Isn’t Life Wonderful! takes square aim at the affected airs of upper class Britons around the turn of the (last) century, using its sharp satire on times gone by as a means by which to reflect the social structure of its own time, the 1950s. Delightfully witty in the most English way imaginable, it’s narrated directly to the audience by the young son of a stiff-upper-lipped aristocrat whose alcoholic brother tries to win the affection of a visiting American heiress. Predominantly genteel comedy makes highly enjoyable this slightly outdated film, which nonetheless manages to entertain a modern audience with the sheer seduction of its strong wit. Primarily channelled through the laughably stereotypical Cecil Parker, the comedy makes a magnificent mockery of English entitlement, but never without the sharpest of smiles. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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It’s All Over Town

One gets the sense immediately in watching It’s All Over Town that narrative is not the sort of thing with which its writers are familiar, nor indeed would they approve of it if ever introduced to the concept. A madcap musical that only barely manages to string together its wonderfully deranged numbers, it’s an insanely enjoyable time that could easily double its 55 minute running time with no complaints from the audience. Released in 1963, it somehow manages to still be a little shocking in its best moments, the sexually-charged moments it delights in delivering often very naughty indeed. Featuring appearances from a number of the major up and coming British pop acts of the time, it shuffles from set piece to set piece with little concern for anything more than getting the audience caught up in the deranged revelry of its song and dance, a task which it’s expertly equipped to complete. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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It’s Never Too Late

Another oh-so-English comedy from yesteryear, It’s Never Too Late explores the intricacies of 1950s family life with its story of a housewife turned novelist who finds herself whisked away to Hollywood to work on developing a film adaptation of her first book. Taking the archetypal family, restrictive gender roles and all, and cracking it wide open, the highly witty film sets itself up for some insightful social commentary before largely resolving everything in an underwhelming finale that does a slight disservice to the story’s erstwhile sense of progressiveness. It is, at least, marvellously funny throughout, the interactions between its colourful cast—stuffed with memorably wacky characters across four generations—and the wild antics into which they’re thrown making for no end of effective comic material. Phyllis Calvert’s performance in the lead role is perhaps the film’s strongest suit, as witty as any other and somehow so sadly involving too. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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On the Ice

Like the shock of being suddenly submerged in an ocean of ice-cold water, Alaskan writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s feature debut is a striking experience, announcing the burgeoning filmmaker as one of the most visually talented and promising we have. On the Ice is a gorgeous work of art, its snowy vistas the perfect backdrop for a narrative hinged on tough moral questions. Shot with a nonprofessional cast in the Iñupiaq town where the drama is set, this is a formidable first feature with a stunning soundtrack to match its astonishing visual composition. It’s the most devastating shame, then, to find MacLean’s cast ill-equipped to do justice to the complexity of this morality play, their inexperience more a distraction than it is a benefit. Even the best, most beautifully shot story can be undermined by botched line delivery; though its multitudinous positives remain, On the Ice falls far short of the greatness it deserves. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Out Late

Honing in on five specific case studies, teasing the utmost frankness from the characters it finds, Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke’s wonderful documentary Out Late profiles the experience of those who exit the closet toward the end of their lives. Standing both as embodiments of the repressive climate of their cultures in which they were raised and the more accepting atmosphere of today, these people speak openly and beautifully about the challenges of coming to terms with who they are, and learning that there’s nothing more important than being comfortable in your own skin. Often joyous to watch, Out Late also manages more than once to enrage, particularly in a segment where the devoutly Catholic neighbour of a lesbian couple speaks of her friendship with the two and then suggests they may be going to hell. Though dogged with a lacklustre aesthetic and confined by its brisk running time to overview, Out Late is a stirring and very important film. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Teen angst is a tricky subject to handle in any medium: an earnest effort can just as easily wind up seeming to support the problems of privileged youth as genuinely tapping into existential dread. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You knows this well, and just about manages to stay on the right side of the line, though several missteps threaten to see it cross over. Following the fortune of the disaffected James, cut off from his divorced parents and sister alike, it’s a movie that always means well but never quite succeeds entirely. A tangential scene featuring Aubrey Plaza, though by far the funniest the film has to offer, only goes to show just how disjointed and tonally erratic a film it is, its inability to marry darker thematic elements with sillier moments of comedy by far its biggest issue. An excellent cast headed by the young Toby Regbo does much to iron out the major problems. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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The Dictator

In the case of Borat and Bruno, the films and characters that launched Sacha Baron Cohen to stardom on both sides of the Atlantic, the bulk of the comedy—such as it was—came from the audacity with which the vulgarity and crassness was staged, and the sheer awkwardness that arose from the reactions of the public to this transgressiveness. The Dictator, by contrast, scripted and shot traditionally without the benefit of mockumentary realism, is little more than the most egregiously childish “humour” desperately spouted with increasing insensitivity across the course of a running time that feels ten times longer than really it is. Aggressively crude, the witless film excuses its consistent racism only by its inflated American stereotypes, mistakenly thinking that being offensive to all is somehow akin to being offensive to none. That’s not the case, and The Dictator’s persistent bad taste is just senseless stupidity masquerading as boundary-pushing bravado. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


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Top Secret

A Cold War comedy of misunderstandings, Top Secret’s terrific humour offers a fascinating contemporary British look at the communist threat, its silly story of a sanitary engineer who becomes mistaken for an international spy brilliantly handled in Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee’s gag-stuffed script. Smartly satirical in one moment, happily hysterical the next, it’s a movie that blends its many comic registers just about to perfection. What’s better yet is how beautifully shot a film it is, rich with noirish inspiration and therein excellently equipped to add atmospheric shadow to its constant laughs. They, always effective, are primarily delivered by George Cole, whose farcical yet believable leading turn grounds the film in a protagonist both ridiculous and relatable. The sly similarities made throughout between the operations and intentions of the war’s opposing sides are surprisingly sharp, and make all the greater the shame that this hidden gem has had little rediscovery. RECOMMENDED. ~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.