This Week on Demand: 25/08/2013

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Editor’s Note: Reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle and Daniel Tucker

It’s a decidedly independent crop of movies this week on demand, which is never a bad thing for those out for unique stylistic experiences. Lauded auteurs and unknown newcomers alike bring their visions to the table, some accompanied by stars out for an off-the-beaten-path acting experience. As seems to be the case more and more each new week, the number of movies from this year is impressively high; right before our eyes we’re seeing film distribution change. But that probably interests you less than the movies themselves, so let’s get to it.


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3

Would that Tom Tykwer’s 3 were the movie its striking opening scene promises: a hectic narration, not unlike that of Run Lola Run, leads a frenzied pace as the German director’s camera traces the intersections and divergences of parallel power lines. It’s a fitting visual prologue, setting the scene for Tykwer’s take on human connection, albeit one whose pulpy style finds little match in the scenes to follow. That’s not to suggest it’s an unengaging movie, though: Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, and David Striesow do terrific work as a long-term couple and the man with whom they each individually begin a clandestine affair. Perhaps not the most original of ideas, it’s one strengthened in the various shades of sadness and sensuality with which Tykwer spins the tale, working with his cast to make each evolving dynamic utterly believable. Though idealistic to a flaw in its finale, it’s difficult to begrudge the movie its earnest yearning for simple happiness. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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A Haunted House

If parody movies are your thing, chances are you’ll enjoy A Haunted House. Starring in his first parody since 2009’s Dance Flick, Marlon Wayans delivers a performance that is equal parts hilarious and grating. In the role as Wayans’s girlfriend, Essence Atkins is nothing short of obnoxious. Cedric the Entertainer, David Koechner and Nick Swardson also show up to deliver a few chuckles. The movie blends plots from Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside. There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but A Haunted House mostly reminds us why we’re tired of parody movies. AVOID IT. ~DT


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Dredd (Read our full review)

Though Pete Travis’ futuristic action movie flopped in theaters, Dredd has since found an extremely passionate cult following. After watching the film, it’s easy to see why. Here is a movie that almost makes you forget that Sylvester Stallone adaptation—which I personally find to be a “so bad it’s good” movie—existed in the first place. Karl Urban is the epitome of badass here, reminding us why he needs to be put in more action movies. Olivia Thirlby gives a somewhat effective supporting performance, too often seeming like she doesn’t know how to deliver her lines. There’s a wonderful dark humor to the film, and Travis’ style, though occasionally frustrating, never ceases to entertain. For those tired of endless Marvel adaptations and seeking something more along the lines of Sin City fare, look no further than Dredd. WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


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Harold’s Going Stiff

It’s been over eighty years since the undead made their screen debut in White Zombie; how refreshing that filmmakers continue to employ them in inventive new ways, using an age-old plot point to explore unique ideas. Following in the footsteps of this year’s Cockneys vs Zombies—and of course Shaun of the Dead before it—Harold’s Going Stiff downscales the zombie apocalypse to a quiet corner of England, imagining the outbreak as an epidemic of “Onset Rigors Disease”. The eponymous pensioner is writer/director Keith Wright’s convenient gateway to a quietly funny and surprisingly moving commentary on aging and loneliness, using Harold and his carer Penny to craft a strikingly sweet story of friendship in the face of encroaching death. A less successful subplot in the vein of Juan of the Dead does the film a serious disservice, but its distractions are never enough to undo the excellent work Wright manages elsewhere. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Highland Park

What a milquetoast movie is Highland Park, debut director Andrew Meieran’s high-school centric ensemble comedy about a group of cash-strapped friends elated to see their regular numbers crop up on a rollover lottery jackpot. Directly engaging with economic downturn—the school’s imminent closure is the crux of the film’s drama—Meieran immediately proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it, using his timely themes as little other than a convenient backdrop to a functional if flaccid drama. Solid work comes courtesy of a cast including the likes of Danny Glover and Parker Posey, but it’s Billy Burke who does best as the wearied principal of the ailing institution. Following a trajectory anyone could plot almost immediately, Highland Park is as competently told a story as it is an inconsequential one, existing as its own self-sufficient narrative yet making no sort of impact at all on the wider world around. It’s absolutely fine, and absolutely forgettable. SO-SO. ~RD


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Into the White

Into the White would make a suitable companion piece to Christian Carion’s Joyeux Noël, being as both are multilingual invocations of the triviality of conflict by way of the mutual humanity of soldiers either side. Similarly rooted in a true story, this Norse production centres on the shared occupancy of three German and two British soldiers when they shoot each other’s aircraft down outside a hunting hut in the wintry Norwegian wilderness. Efficiently if immaterially written, it’s a movie that lives or dies on the ability of its performers to really sell the tension of the script, a task they mostly manage in spades. Rupert Grint impresses as a gruff gunner while Florian Lukas’ stern Lieutenant is believably devoted to his cause. Each of the five primary cast make memorable their respective characters, aiding writer/director Petter Næss immeasurably in his construction of the movie’s drama. The beats he hits may be familiar, but they resonate nevertheless. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Kiss of the Damned

Owing more to the likes of Jean Rollin than her own filmmaker father, Xan Cassavetes makes an appreciably stylish, sensual debut with Kiss of the Damned, a voluptuous vampire tale that foregrounds the raw sexuality the mythical creatures have always embodied. Milo Ventimiglia is uncharacteristically excellent as the human turned in the movie’s opening act; he is our audience surrogate, introducing us to the particular rules of vampire lore Cassavetes opts to include. He is less her concern, though, than the undead siblings Djuna and Mimi, who between them embody the same two strands of vampirism that offer the integral tension of True Blood. Rollin-esque eroticism abounds in Cassavetes’ confident direction, but her script sadly lacks the requisite bite to make of the film very much more than a sumptuous visual feast, pleasing to the eyes but sorely lacking in greater mental stimulation. Still, this looks to be a director from whom great things are sure to come. SO-SO. ~RD


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Love Sick Love

What made The Loved Ones, the Aussie prom horror belatedly released stateside last year, such a special beast was the giddy sense of sympathy the movie generated for its clearly demented protagonist, whose torture of the boy who turned her down was in some twisted way entitled by the manner in which her treatment was facilitated by misogynistic society. In the case of Love Sick Love, in which a man is similarly held hostage by a manic woman, there’s no such irony on show. Ryan Oxford’s script is a perverse package of gross gender imbalance, heralding its sexist central character as some sort of hero and the woman who kidnaps him—like all women—a hormonally-maddened harpy intent only on using his loins to establish a family. Christian Charles’ direction is the sole saving grace, managing certain squeamish efforts with some success; M. Emmett Walsh’s presence is, the movie’s major issues considered, unwelcome for perhaps the first time in his career. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Miss Representation

Jennifer Siebel Newsom took a brief break from her acting pursuits to examine the way women were portrayed in the media. Miss Representation, the resulting documentary, is both an important and entertaining look into the media business. Packed to the brim with devastating stories and shocking statistics—as well as featuring many interviews from the likes of Condoleeza Rice and Geena Davis to Paul Haggis and scholars from around the world—Miss Representation is not to be missed. The movie thoroughly examines the way women are portrayed in pop culture and the effect it is having on our society to great success. WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


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Shun Li and the Poet

A terrific example of the things that can be achieved when an unremarkable story is infused with rich performances and unwavering emotional warmth, Andrea Segre’s Shun Li and the Poet is a film contagiously fond of its titular characters. They, an immigrant employee in a quayside café and one of the fishermen she serves daily, are wonderful creations, brilliantly brought to life in the utterly affable performances of Tao Zhao and Rade Serbedzija. Dramatic complications arise as their relationship slowly blossoms, of course, yet Segre’s is a movie proudly free of cynicism, facing the many hardships of the world with its heart on its sleeve and a smile on its face. That translates to the audience, and it’s near impossible to bear witness to this burgeoning companionship and not be overtaken with the same sense of joy these characters find in each other. Minor last-act hiccups do little to detract from the overall effect. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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The Road

There’s a certain feral quality to Viggo Mortensen that makes him the ideal choice for the protective paterfamilias of The Road. John Hillcoat’s apocalyptic aesthetic is the perfect fit for the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s source novel, which sees a father and son trekking across a landscape laden with death toward some unknown destination. Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are a magnificent match, the latter’s inexperience adding to the timid innocence of his character. An earnest early scene that plays like unintentionally hilarious product placement is the first of a host of problems that detract from Hillcoat’s quasi-horror atmosphere, though his visceral direction allows him to easily regain control with some striking, startling visuals. Throwaway roles for Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce distract, as does the mishandled flashback structure; it’s indicative of the strength of Mortensen’s work, then, that the movie as a whole still manages to work so well. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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This Is Martin Bonner

Following directly in the footsteps of Shun Li and the Poet, This Is Martin Bonner similarly takes a story not vastly impressive in itself and, with the terrific work of a talented cast and the earnest intentions of a gifted director, makes something special nonetheless. Here, Paul Eenhoorn excels as the eponymous protagonist, a soft-spoken man working for a non-profit focused on aiding the integration of ex-cons into society. His disconnection from his adult children is his point of entry to a slow friendship with one such former prisoner, who seeks to play the part in his young daughter’s life he never could before. There’s a certain ease to the storytelling here, everything moving together in particularly predictable motions, yet it’s much more the emotions that are the focus, the underlying strength of character and depth of empathy elicited. Never quite building to anything big, This Is Martin Bonner is, nonetheless, a quietly satisfying little tale. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Tony Manero

Before the success of the Oscar-nominated No, Chilean director Pablo Larrain explored the troubled past of his country not by way of comedy, but with a creepy quasi-horror tone every bit as effective as his later laughs. Tony Manero, first in a thematic trilogy concluding with No and also incorporating Post Mortem, sees Alfredo Castro play a man obsessed with Saturday Night Fever and Travolta’s titular character. Astonishingly dark, it’s an effectively horrifying drama whose lead’s increasingly eerie actions mirror the growing moral turpitude of a Chile caught in the clutches of Pinochet. Castro’s is a truly transfixing performance, compelling and repulsive all at once, commanding the movie and the audience every step of the way. His partnership with Larrain, brilliantly begun in the earlier Fuga, is one of the greatest director-actor pairings ever seen. Tony Manero is its apex: one of the greatest creative collaborations in cinema since the turn of the century. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Wreckers

There’s a touch of Susanne Bier’s Brothers to Wreckers, Dictynna Hood’s carefully constructed psychological drama that investigates the strange mental ménage à trios that unfolds between a married couple and the husband’s brother when he arrives to visit them in their new countryside home. Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy to well to create the key relationship, given how little time Hood affords them to establish it before introducing Shaun Evan’s troubled catalyst of a character. The ensuing love triangle—in which all love, fraternal as well as romantic, is in question—is a fascinating construction, yet one ill-served in Hood’s cyclical storytelling structure of argument and reconciliation, argument and reconciliation. Her leads help a great deal in making amends, but it’s never quite enough to assuage the sense that this isn’t the great character piece it fancies itself. Hood’s camera frames these figures far better than her script ever does; Wreckers is a compelling curio, and a constrained one too. SO-SO. ~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.