This Week on Demand: 26/05/2013

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Editor’s Note: see here for our take on the fourth season of Arrested Development, also new on Netflix this week

Here’s a rare treat: this is a week as strong for international cinema as it is for American, both well-represented by exemplary critical and commercial hits. It’s an appropriately level playing ground for a week in which we see the arrival of history’s highest-grossing film not in the English language, showing—just like that film’s incredible success—that cinema is cinema the world over. Of course, cinema will doubtlessly take something of a hit this week on Netflix as everyone rushes to gorge themselves on the long-awaited return of Arrested Development; as typically witty and wonderful a batch of episodes as they are, there’s much to be enjoyed on the film front in the new arrivals, and Pete Volk and I have done our all to bring you the very best below.


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End of Watch (Read our full review)

Director/writer David Ayer delivers a kinetic story of two cops in L.A., with an abundance of handheld cameras and point-of-view shots serving to bring the audience directly into the film’s considerable energy. It’s one of the few times the handheld strategy has worked, thanks in large part to fantastic performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, who breathe new life into the familiar buddy cop form with their outstanding on-screen chemistry. However, the film is able to separate itself from them; the two joke in racial stereotypes, but their characters are not reduced to them in any way, shape or form. In the end, Ayer delivers a compelling look at friendship and the separation of job and family life, all while diving headfirst into a street-level view of policing in an urban environment. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~PV


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Leaving Las Vegas

Much as many may mow loathe him for his ongoing acceptance of one subpar action/thriller role after another, Nicolas Cage will always retain the respect of his peers for his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis’ searing portrait of the destructive nature of alcoholism. Allegedly researching the role by binge drinking on the streets of Dublin, Cage perfectly embodies the sad shell of humanity that is his character, the horrific effects of his self-destruction—quite literally, he drinks incessantly in an effort to kill himself—rendering harrowingly tragic what is so often played for laughs. Magnificent too is Elizabeth Shue as the prostitute who becomes his only friend as he spirals toward his desperate demise. Figgis, shooting on 16mm, puts us right in the middle of this relationship, ensuring we feel every last twinge of pain in what must surely be one of the most remarkable character studies the screen has seen. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Neighbouring Sounds

Community is the concern of Neighbouring Sounds, the first feature of Brazilian critic-turned-filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho, who demonstrates in this debut a grasp of cinematic storytelling most directors spend their careers seeking. Centred on a middle-class street in the city of Recife, it’s a movie with little to offer in narrative scale, but so much to say in its characterisation, and the manner in which it uses these people to reflect its country and the social issues inherent within it. Filho creates a multitudinous microcosm predicated on realism but never beholden to it: his characters and scenarios are firmly rooted in the real world, yet he has allowed himself the freedom to transcend that realism, revelling in expressionistic flourishes when it would benefit the film. And benefit it surely does; this is a remarkable work of visual and aural storytelling, its pristine sound design as engrossing as are its crisp visuals. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Peep World

Something radical must have happened to the script of Peep World between casting and shooting; it’s too difficult to believe that so much talent would have signed up to enact something so witless, so tactless, so unbearably stupid. Ben Schwarz, Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Kate Mara, Judy Greer, Stephen Tobolwsky, and all too many more beggar belief as they struggle through this hapless story of a family gathering for its patriarch’s seventieth birthday. The tension comes—or is at least intended to come—from the youngest son’s debut novel, which unceremoniously incorporates no end of family secrets for comic effect to the chagrin of his siblings. Peter Himmelstein’s script—his first, quite clearly—is a mess, not one character examined in any depth, not one comic scenario expanded beyond a single, oddly often phallocentric, conceit. This is surely one of the great casting mysteries of our age. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Stand Off

Let’s see if we can follow the positively insane plot of Stand Off, Oscar-winner (!) Terry George’s straight-to-video fish robbery film. Jimbo, a young Irish boy with a baby, owes $5,000 to a local gangster, who instead wants Jimbo’s son as payment. Jimbo then robs a local fish market, only to discover the market is owned by the same gangster. On the run from the police and the local criminals, Jimbo holes up—with his son—in a local antique shop, run by an American named Joe (Brendan Fraser), on the run himself from Irish mobsters in Boston. What follows is predictably awful acting from Fraser (and Yaya Alafia, who combine for one of the worst on-screen couples in cinematic history), remarkably lazy direction—it appears as though George made the film in about a day and a half—and one terrible misstep after another. AVOID IT. ~PV


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The Intouchables (Read our full review)

Surprisingly omitted from the list of nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, French crowd-pleasing hit The Intouchables became one of those rare foreign films to cross over into the mainstream—it is the second highest grossing film of all time in its native country, and the highest grossing non-English language film worldwide—its heart-warming humour universal enough to overcome the pervasive public aversion to subtitled cinema. François Cluzet and Omar Sy are terrific as an upper-class quadriplegic and the disadvantaged man he hires to be his carer, the vast economic and cultural differences between the two gleefully mined, more for comic effect than social commentary, in Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano’s script, which they co-direct. Handsomely shot, it’s a film more concerned with its dialogue than with its visuals, which plays to the strengths of Nakache’s and Toledano’s witty writing. Cluzet and Sy are a natural pairing, perfectly selling every moment of the movie’s light delight. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Tonight You’re Mine (Read our full review)

Never one to be pinned to a singular style, Scottish director David Mackenzie follows the apocalyptic melodrama of Perfect Sense with Tonight You’re Mine, entirely different in style but all-too-similar in weaknesses. Shot and set at the T in the Park music festival in England, it’s a fine idea for a film, literally handcuffing the respective leaders of feuding bands together and exploring their relationship as they search for some way to free themselves of each other. In Mackenzie’s best—incidentally self-penned—work, he constructs engaging character studies that thrive on behavioural nuance; here and otherwhere he struggles to interpret the writing of others to his personal strengths. Tonight You’re Mine feels twice as long as it is, the time we’re forced to spend with these endlessly whiny, annoyingly eccentric, and fundamentally uninteresting characters eventually as unpleasant a chore to us as it is—initially, thanks to a plain-as-day plot contrivance—to them. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Wasted on the Young

It’s a scarring moment, when a film in which the viewer is entirely invested suddenly takes a plot turn that undoes almost everything good that’s gone before. It’s precisely this that happens in the final moments of Wasted on the Young, and erstwhile exemplary Australian film with a remarkable grasp on the younger generation, whose changing interaction in the digital age is its focus. Brilliantly shot from its opening scene, where three teenage boys leave a scantily-clad and unconscious girl on a beach, Ben C. Lucas’ debut as writer/director is an extraordinary work for much of its running time, its literally absent parents and teachers speaking to its primary themes as much as the way its expressive cinematography frames its various characters. It’s these bravura aspects, matched by an immensely talented young cast, that make the film able to withstand the dramatically ill-advised turns it takes towards the end; its bitter disappointment attests, at least, how great it was before. 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.