Editor’s Notes: This batch of new releases were reviewed by Ronan Doyle, Daniel Tucker, and Pete Volk.
Documentaries, indie hits, and an old Stallone movie: it’s an odd week on demand, and rather a quiet one too. Of course Netflix’s biggest new talking point will be Breaking Bad, the latest episodes of which will arrive on the UK/Ireland strand of the service the day after their airing in the US. Seemingly not content with launching some of the best new shots of the year, this is the VOD giant’s latest move to dominate the TV market too. But that’s a whole other story: the movies are our concern, and here—as ever—they are.
Antiviral (Read our full review)
The oily ability to cut to the heart of contemporary society’s problems with wince-worthy horror would appear to be genetic with Antiviral, the feature debut of Brandon Cronenberg and a film that channels, without ever aping, his father’s eerily effective tonal sensibilities. Like a fusion between the institutional abstraction of Stereo and Crimes of the Future and the gory nastiness of Shivers and The Brood, the young Cronenberg’s debut effort plays like the man heavily and earnestly influences by one of the genre’s great masters. Set in a vision of the near-future where a peaked celebrity obsession sees desperate fans paying to be injected with viruses harvested from their favourite stars, Antiviral is a film as writhing as pustulent as Caleb Landry-Jones’ terrifyingly physical lead performance. His work and the claustrophobic chilliness of Cronenberg’s brilliantly-wrought aesthetic are what make this one of the sharpest, scariest satires horror has seen in years. Long live the new flesh. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD
Arbitrage (Read our full review)
It is impossibly hard to imagine how a film like Arbitrage can be made in 2012, considering the economic climate caused by people exactly like its disgusting protagonist, Robert Miller (who, in one of the film’s only redeemable qualities, is played very well by Richard Gere). Jarecki’s direction doesn’t help: while the film is nicely paced, the repetitiveness of his shot-reverse shot dialogue sequences is nauseating. Perhaps the film’s greatest offense is Miller’s daughter Brooke (Brit Marling). A high-ranking officer in the company, she finds out that her father’s billion dollar company isn’t exactly doing things “the right way”; either she’s unbelievably naive or Jarecki wants you to believe all the big companies are actually on the up-and-up. That’s a lie: the film’s greatest offense is the gentle patronization with which it treats Jimmy, the son of Miller’s old driver who Miller calls when he gets in trouble. But there are certainly many to choose from. UNWATCHABLE. ~PV
Whether you like his work or not, it’s almost disingenuous not to admire Sylvester Stallone’s drive and passion for his craft. His refusal to sell the rights to film Rocky without his own casting in the lead role paid off enormously, allowing him to—as well as make a whole pile of money—make his directorial debut with 1978’s Paradise Alley. Set in the same inner-urban milieu as his star-making earlier role, its focus is the three Carboni brothers, who band together to build the youngest’s wrestling career and use its success as a springboard to escape the dismal prospects of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s not much good: Stallone writes well with the right story; Paradise Alley is certainly not that. Composed equally of Rocky run-off and stereotypes aplenty, it’s little more than a terrible bore, none of its central characters ever much worth getting behind, despite a handful of adequate performances. AVOID IT. ~RD
Sara Nesson’s Oscar-nominated documentary short Poster Girl accomplishes nothing, save for introducing us to one of the countless veterans suffering from PTSD. Sgt. Robynn Murray joined the military to help fight the war on terror and was not prepared for the horrors she would face. Thirty minutes is barely enough time to paint an effective portrait of someone with deep anti-war convictions, much less make a broader statement about the war. By the time Poster War’s credits begin to roll, we know as much about Robynn as when we started – virtually nothing. AVOID IT. ~DT
An exciting new voice in film has surfaced, and that voice belongs to Ken Kwek. Sex.Violence.FamilyValues is a compilation of three short films that showcase Kwek’s uncanny knack for satire, humor, and entertaining storytelling. The first short is simple enough, though its basic punch line is delivered too quickly and barely given any time to breathe. The second short, which is by far the best, follows a porn actor on his first job. Full of hilarious satire and politically incorrect humor, Kwek really lets shines here. The final short is the longest and takes its time to tell its story, which is an interesting spin on the age-old story of a girl who just wants to dance. Kwek has a wonderful sense of humor that stems from his days as a newspaper columnist, and he clearly crafts his stories as a direct assault on the Singaporean government’s censorship. Here’s a director to watch. I know I am, very closely. RECOMMENDED. ~DT
The Other Dream Team
In 1988, the Soviet Union defeated the legendary US men’s basketball team in the Summer Olympics. What many didn’t know at the time was that four of the five starters in the Soviet Union’s basketball team hailed from Lithuania. The Other Dream Team follows four of the world’s greatest basketball players forced to play for a different flag. Marius A. Markevicius documents how the number one most popular sport in Lithuania became a symbol of the fight against Communist oppression. At long last, the Lithuanian basketball team was given the chance to play ball for their native country in the 1992 Olympics. Occasionally, the political aspects of the story get convoluted and hard to follow, but it never fails to engage on an emotional level. It’s a wonderful, at times unbelievable story. A must-watch for anyone who loves the sport, The Other Dream Team is a fascinating documentary that focuses on the rarely seen political side of basketball. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~DT