This Week on Demand: 13/10/2013

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

Well oh well, it’s all or nothing this week on demand. That’s not true—not even nearly—though it tends to feel that way when the below content so wildly wavers from some of the year’s strongest offerings to a few of its stinkiest. So whether you’re lacking for films to fill out your best or worst of 2013 list, you’ve come to the right place. It’s a fairly even spread of foreign imports and indie offerings, with plenty in the way of mediocrity to prove just how terribly untrue those opening words were.


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Hammer of the Gods (Read our full review)

To capitalise upon the popularity of Game of Thrones is the most evident intent of Hammer of the Gods, Farren Blackburn’s handsomely crafted but wholly inconsequential Viking action adventure that sees Twilight alum Charlie Bewley play the bastard son of a dying monarch who must find his long-lost righteous heir half-brother and bring him to the throne. Not so much a substantial story as it is the easiest excuse for a handful of brutal battles, the movie’s plot—as scripted by Matthew Read of Pusher remake fame—is as perfunctory as its players, who deliver the dab dialogue with the straightest faces they can manage. Tonally troublesome, the constant efforts to be Valhalla Rising—for which Read received “additional writing” credit—cast a dour dullness over what might, with the right execution, be a piece of inoffensive fun. Alas, despite commendable efforts on Blackburn’s part, Hammer of the Gods emerges anything but. AVOID IT. ~RD


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I, Me aur Main

Given that the central gag that supports I, Me aur Main’s story is “oh what a serial-womanising bastard our protagonist is!”, the movie’s incessant indulgence of his abhorrent asshole antics leaves it feeling as though it’s somehow missed its own point. He, played with requisite hideousness by a regularly shirtless—understandably so, given those abs—John Abraham, is a high-powered music producer with as many bedpost notches as mixing desk controls; his story, delivered with the typical song and dance that makes even bad Bollywood so oddly uplifting, sees a girlfriend’s pregnancy and his newly-separated mother’s sudden arrival in Mumbai impinge on his wild way of life. Some witty one-liners and no shortage of smart-talking ladies make this a wholly passable piece of fluff, though the movie’s steely resolve to never quite take this loathsome Lothario to task can’t help but leave a certain sour taste in the mouth. SO-SO. ~RD


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Movie 43 (Read our full review)

At the time of its release back in January, reading about the making of Movie 43 was considered a much better use of one’s time than to actually see the movie. We’re in October, and honestly no one cares about it altogether and rightfully so. It took a lot of years and a lot of energy from the filmmakers to bribe the flick’s actors to get them in this. I mean, they must have had dirt on them and/or these actors really must have done something bad. No one promoted this during its theatrical release. And it comes down to this… it’s a boiling pot of complete and utter horribleness. With the exception of maybe one short—just one—the collaboration of talented people all around is wasted. It’s worse than wasted, actually. It’s like watching the sins of everyone involved come to life and savage the screen, and your eyes. Don’t let it happen. AVOID IT. ~JB


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Paranormal Activity 4 (Read our full review)

It’s good that the Paranormal Activity franchise is taking a break this October: it needs one. Up to 2011, the franchise had a solid stride going for it, especially the handling of part 3. Bringing in Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman was a smart move, but that was a sequel ago. Even though all the major behind-the-scenes players came back for part 4, it wasn’t enough to rise above a relatively lame story concept. We’re away from the family this time around, and on to a new one. They’re happy and content, until their new neighbors arrive. There’s something… off about Katie and Robbie, and Alex knows this. So what better way to capture their weirdness than with some cameras! It’s all familiar, and even though the last few minutes are intense, after the credits roll it’ll just make you sad; you’ll wish that they brought that intensity around for the whole enchilada. Well, here’s to part 5… AVOID IT. ~JB


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Self Storage

That the IMDb lists over sixty projects in the works for Eric Roberts isn’t nearly as damning an indictment of his disregard for quality than his presence in Self Storage, a despicably lazy and loathsomely dumb horror that only ever exhibits any brains when it’s blasting them all over the surfaces of its eponymous setting. Writer/director Tom DeNucci stars as the night watchman college student who invites his displaced pals to party it up in his workplace; he’s less jack of all trades here than hack, unable even to embellish his own lines with any shred of sincerity. Not that they demand it: his register is primarily comic—at least it intends to be—and makes for a paltry procession of limp gags as Roberts’ maniacal manager uses the hidden contraptions in his convenient cover for a torture factory to murder and mutilate the lot. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, not even the gore delivers. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


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Sons of Perdition

There’s an awkward scene in the centre of Sons of Perdition where one of the several teenage escapees from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints whom the film follows is sat down by a potential foster family and asked if they can expect anything weird from him. It’s uncomfortable to see, but not all too far removed from the uneasy perspective with which a great deal of the audience might view these exiled youths. Led by the now-imprisoned Warren Jeffs, the FLDS clandestinely continues the practice of polygamy, marrying multiple young brides to each rule-abiding male; that sinister setup offers directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten the ultimate investigative opportunity as they follow their few subjects in their efforts to return for their mothers and siblings. By turns disturbing, difficult, and even delightful, Sons of Perdition is a deeply involving viewing experience. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Starbuck

Seeming at one stage as though it might never see the light of American day ahead of its inevitable Hollywood remake, Quebecois comedy Starbuck has finally managed to arrive in the same year; Delivery Man’s release just next month looks set to emphasise the merits of the original film all the more. Hinged on Patrick Huard’s humorous performance as the eponymous anonymous sperm donor whose layabout life is interrupted by the efforts of the five hundred plus children he fathered to find his true identity, it’s a movie that takes a simple silly setup and runs with it, ladling laughs atop its often overly sentimental dramatic aspects. Writer/director Ken Scott—who reprised those roles for the remake—handles the all-important balance delicately, deriving constant comedy without ever forgetting the serious stakes at hand. Starbuck is a fine exercise in high-concept comedy, an enjoyably odd effort that’s never wanting for heart. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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The Hot Flashes

Menopausal antics abound in The Hot Flashes, Susan Seidelman’s strange sports movie cum chick flick with a twist of cancer-derived drama. Creaky—to say that the least—is Brad Hennig’s screenplay, which efforts to entwine the welcome post-Bridesmaids appetite for female ensemble comedy with a typical underdog story when a band of forty-something women get together to save a mobile breast scan facility by betting on their own basketball league odds. Plodding though the plotting may be, Hennig has a good gag or two up his sleeve, and Seidelman brings a cast to deliver them with aplomb in the likes of Brooke Shields and Darryl Hannah. But for all the good these few mild chuckles give, The Hot Flashes struggles against a current of cumbersome drama and the most unimaginatively enacted narrative. It all amounts to an interesting idea woefully underdeveloped, promise lost amidst a tide of tedium. SO-SO. ~RD


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The Painting (Read our full review)

How deliciously imaginative a movie is The Painting, Jean-François Laguionie’s gorgeously crafted existential animation that sees the figures of the eponymous artwork come to life and wonder why their painter has left them unfinished. Excellently interweaving issues of class with the in-frame delineation between characters completed and only barely conceived, it’s a wickedly smart and wildly entertaining effort that shines with the sheer invention Laguionie brings to bear. But the best is yet to come, and once the chief characters set out to solve the mystery of their creation, The Painting takes on a whole new lease of life as shifting styles sublimely constitute both a moving image museum of art history and a mellifluous meander through the big questions only art this excellent could hope to answer. Languionie has made something special here; a movie as impactful to the heart as to the head, as emotionally extraordinary as it is intellectually astonishing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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The Rabbi’s Cat

It was only a matter of time until Joann Sfar, the renowned French comic book artist and writer, made an animated film, and what better way to make your debut than to adapt one of your own works? Joining fellow director Antoine Delesvaux, Sfar set on a quest to make The Rabbi’s Cat come to life. Set way back when, a “loveable” cat gains the magical powers to speak after eating a parrot (yep) and decides to change religions on the people around him. As crazy as it sounds—and I didn’t even get into the juicy parts for obvious reasons—and while it can be a bit much to take in, there’s no denying that it has a sort of electric charm to it. The pace is consistent, the animation is lively and there are plenty of reasons to check out the start of Sfar’s possible new profession as an animation director. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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The World Before Her

“This is bullshit,” remarks Prachi with deadpan disbelief as she watches on TV the annual Miss India pageant, proceeding to condemn the proceedings for the very same mind manipulation she openly accepts of her own fundamental Hinduism. What a fascinating figure she is at the centre of The World Before Her, Nisha Pahuja’s brilliantly crafted feature-length juxtaposition of these two utterly different words. Yet the essence of the movie’s ingenuity is its understanding that, actually, they’re not so different at all: cutting between Prachi and one of the pageant’s hopefuls, Pahuja creates two eerily similar characters of these young women, reflecting on the respective issues of two diametrically-opposed Indias. It’s perhaps her disquieting embrace of the traditions that deny her autonomy despite her sense of self-determination that makes Prachi the more compelling of the pair; both, though, earn our equal concern. The World Before Her is every bit as terrifying as it is terrific. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Three Worlds

“Un Certain Regard”, so goes the old gag, is the Cannes competition for films the selectors are uncertain of how to regard. How aptly that’s evidenced by Three Worlds, Catherine Corsini’s noble morality play that’s as beguilingly dark as it is, at times, dreadfully dreary. It’s a strong setup to start, seeing a soon-to-wed young businessman haunted by a hit and run when a witness succeeds in tracking him down and demanding he atone for his crime financially, if not legally. Strong performances enhance the effect of this brooding tale, but generic conveniences aplenty keep things from ever attaining the sense of dramatic difficulty they should. An awfully ill-advised romantic subplot is the most egregious of the many issues here, firmly denying the movie any hope of touching greatness. Still, it’s an effectively realised moral scenario; those few who’ve seen The Good Man will know Three Worlds’ problems aren’t so big in the grand scheme of things. 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.