This Week on Demand: 18/08/2013

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Editor’s Note: Reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle and Jaime Burchardt

From aggressive action to sheer cinematic spectacle, this week on demand is yet another that takes us to all corners of the globe for a varying view on the world and us who live in it. And all that within the small scope of a mere six films. Organisational hiccups are to be blamed for such a restricted roster of titles—though no major addition’s been missed—which is to say I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again. Not soon, at least.


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Dog Pound (Read our full review)

Beatings and suicides make for a relatively restrained follow-up to the intense horror of Sheitan for French filmmaker Kim Chapiron, who here remakes ‘70s cult classic Scum for American audiences. Dog Pound is a suitably miserable affair, its chief characters’ dismal prospects keenly reflected in the pared-back aesthetic of greys and blues with which Chapiron depicts their days. His handheld framing follows the inevitably cyclical stream of violence into which incarceration thrusts them, seeing their punishment as less a means to rehabilitation than a fast-track to greater criminality or a grisly end. Yet beyond the visceral discomfort held over from Sheitan, Chapiron brings little to bear to abate the sense that this is just a serviceable reworking of a narrative already executed with optimum effect. For all the fine work of this director and his cast—Shane Kippel chief among them—there’s nothing to be heard here that isn’t just a thirty year-old echo. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Donnie Darko

Deftly pairing teenage angst and sci-fi conceit for an off-key opera of existential dread, Richard Kelly makes a bitterly funny breakthrough with Donnie Darko. Jake Gyllenhaal’s soft-spoken sadness is integral to the movie’s quiet sense of desperation at the vast meaninglessness of the universe, grounding a narrative spanning time travel and nightmarish bunny men in a tragic—and tragically human—case of mental unease. Jet-black humour comes courtesy of Drew Barrymore’s idealistic English teacher and Beth Grant’s prudish Christian parent, whose ideological conflict underlines the narrative and facilitates a fun role for the late Patrick Swayze. Kelly combines his humorous and dramatic aspects perfectly, making more palatable his brooding philosophising with a rich coating of dry comedy. However abstract his plotting may become in the film’s final third, he remains devoutly committed to this character and the fears that define him, unyieldingly attached to a faithful representation of rational thought in an irrational world. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Greenberg

The critical comparisons to Woody Allen heaped atop Noah Baumbach’s latest, Frances Ha, are no isolated incidence: his previous effort was Greenberg, whose unambitious forty-something protagonist plays like the darker of Allen’s neurotic antiheroes. Ben Stiller makes an overdue departure as the former musician who missed his chance to make it big; he fills the character with an adolescent aimlessness that translates to an almost pathetically unwitting mid-life crisis. Though Rhys Ifans’ role as a family man hit hard by the fallout of Greenberg’s erstwhile indecision brings life here and there—especially in a rousing late-stage confrontation—it’s a movie mostly as devoid of momentum as its central character, every bit as unfocused and inconsequential. The finesse of Baumbach’s direction frames his game cast impeccably, but without a deeper insight into this maddening man-child, Greenberg is as left in the lurch by its protagonist as are its peripheral players. SO-SO. ~RD


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Samsara

What a capacious cinema is Ron Fricke’s, making room for cultures and concepts galore as he spans the globe for a spiritual sequel to his 1992 essay film Baraka. Samsara, shot across five years and twenty-five countries in glorious 70mm, is as gorgeous a film as ever there was, its indescribable imagery taking the movie to transcendent heights of cinematic immersion. Here taking a time-lapse look at Peruvian temples, there observing a performance artist don and desecrate one visage after another, it’s an extraordinary and extravagant depiction of our relation to the world around, a multifaceted, multicultural collage of humankind in the twenty-first century. At times almost unbearably beautiful, its ripe visual details find fluid complement in the equally exhausting soundscapes with which Fricke pairs them. His film is cinema, its vast and vivid tableaux presenting a story no other medium could even hope to tell. MUST SEE. ~RD


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Stark Raving Mad

Stark Raving Mad could be viewed as one of the forgotten flicks of Seann William Scott. (it wasn’t released theatrically in the US back in 2002). He plays a conman named Ben, and he’s pulling off the heist of his life… literally. He has one night to pay back the debt that his murdered brother left behind to an evil crime lord (Lou Diamond Phillips), and it has to take place during a massive rave party in Chinatown. There’s a lot going against it. Patience is not this movie’s virtue, which is made clear with the chop-happy editing. That’s ironic, considering it’s also way too long and complicated for what could have been a straight-forward fun time. But there’s also some good elements going for it: the cast and script keep it from going towards the downward spiral, and Scott is impressive in the driver’s seat. In the end, it’s all a matter of what weighs more, the good or the bad. SO-SO. ~JB


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The Rundown

Despite the wide range of his flicks, in tone and quality, Peter Berg is an overall fine filmmaker. It’s his second effort, The Rundown, that sticks out in a somewhat mysterious way as the shining example of Berg truly showing his full potential. Beck (Dwayne Johnson) is sent to “the jungle” to bring back Travis (Seann William Scott), the son of a powerful mob boss. He refuses to go quietly, and it doesn’t help that the small town is run by Hatcher (an excellent Christopher Walken), a dictator with an appetite for greed. Eventually chaos ensues, and that’s when the movie shines and stays constant throughout. Johnson and Scott have a chemistry as entertaining as the showmanship Berg possess. The last act is really special, though: it’s Berg the tension builder; Berg the action admirer; Berg the tremendous fan of the word “showdown”. The last act raises it to the level of “fantastical”. See it to believe it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB

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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.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Samsara is insanely good. A well deserved MUST SEE!

  • Dan Ralls

    I very much agree with your review of Samsara – great film! I need to watch Baraka soon.

  • baronronan

    Ditto that, the only complaints I remember hearing against Samsara when it opened first were that it was too much of a rehash. Which sounds like exactly the kind of thing ‘d be very happy to see.