This Week on Demand: 17/11/2013

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

With year’s end hurtling toward us, it’s that time again to begin the hurried process of catching-up with as many of the acclaimed movies of the past twelve months as possible. Your pal Netflix is here to help: this week’s crop is heavily centred on the new, with only two of the below choices coming from years previous. Now you’ve got no excuse.


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A Hijacking (Read our full review)

Given 2013’s peculiar prevalence of accidental double-bills, and our own desire as audiences for definitiveness, A Hijacking is likely to remain hidden under the shadow of Captain Phillips when it comes to remembering the year in piracy. And that’s a great shame: playing out far more in the distant boardrooms of Copenhagen, Tobias Lindholm bracing effort is an entirely different beast to Greengrass’ film. Its enervating insistence on aligning our perspective with that of the new-to-negotiating CEO who attempts to save his ship’s crew for as little cash as he can foregrounds the callousness of capitalism with knuckle-gnawing tension. Søren Malling is sublime as the idealistic executive, determined to retain a brave face of humanity despite the coldness of the cards he plays. A co-writer of The Hunt, Lindholm has had an exceptional year where suspense is concerned; here, the tension he mines from phones and faxes is just absurd. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Dealin’ with Idiots (Read our full review)

Few films slipped below the collective radar so undeservedly this year as Dealin’ with Idiots (Read our full review), affable actor Jeff Garlin’s second directorial feature that sees him, essentially playing himself with no particular story to tell, raise more laughs that most movies can dream of. Interviewing those around him at a little league baseball game as research for a movie, Garlin’s stand-up comic character’s unabashedly a cipher for himself that serves to say “hey, who needs a plot when you’ve got this many punchlines?” And oh how many they are: surrounding himself with a cast of comic talents the like of Bob Odenkirk, Fred Willard, and Richard Kind, Garlin crafts a film that plays more like a string of supreme sketches than anything else, each filled with awkwardness and oddity recognisable from everyday life. Therein lies Dealin’ with Idiots’ strength, above all: this is a movie that mines extraordinary humour from ordinary humans, finding the funniness in the life we all live. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Frances Ha (Read our full review)

Melancholy has rarely seemed as amusing as in Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s portrait of a twenty-something New Yorker rapidly realising that life isn’t about to work out all of its own accord. Sharing script credit, Greta Gerwig’s nothing if not delightful as the almost-eponymous heroine, whose story isn’t so much coming-of-age tale as it is catching-up-of-age. She is a striking creation, stunted at a teenage perspective that renders her at once ill-equipped to function in the world and yet so much better poised to face it. In most other movies, hers would be a tragic story, the move from home to home that of a person with no place in the world. But Baumbach’s film is as relentlessly—perhaps even unwisely—carefree as its central character, as likeable in spite of its absurd approach to life. Shades of the same navel-gazing nonsense that’s infiltrated both writers’ work in the past are, graciously, of the faint variety. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Fun Size

Nickelodeon’s theatrical track record is very hit and miss. We’ll either get a The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, or we’ll get a Good Burger (and no, that’s not a good thing). Fun Size actually falls somewhere in the middle. If it has to lean anywhere, it would more than likely lean on the lesser side, but you can’t say it doesn’t try like crazy. Long-time TV producer Josh Schwartz makes his directorial debut with a an epic night out for Wren (Victoria Justice), a teenager going through the pesky troubles of attending the popular Halloween party and also making sure her crazy little brother is being watched by, well, someone. Things of course go wrong, and now Wren has to find her brother lost in a city while trying to talk to the high school boy of her dreams. It’s funny and clever in some parts, but it’s also inconsistent. If you see it, it’ll be like picking out highlights from a long game. SO-SO. ~JB


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Grabbers (Read our full review)

It’s a comic conceit for the ages: aliens are coming, and they hate the taste of booze; getting drunk is the only way to survive. Thus goes Grabbers, a groggy Irish horror that sets up a handful of characters and sticks them in a room together after one—or a dozen—too many pints. Impressively pairing the premise’s simplicity with some well-used special effects, director Jon Wright makes an impressive entry in the alien invasion genre, courtesy chiefly of Kevin Lehane’s wonderfully witty script, filled with funny dialogue well before anything even goes awry. Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley work well together in a pairing that’s perhaps a little too familiar as the cops tasked with the security of the (fictional) island on which the action unfolds. Russell Tovey’s the best of a strong supporting cast primarily composed of thickly-accented natives, happy to embrace this otherworldy excuse for a night on the town. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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In the Fog (Read our full review)

It’s not so much the omnipresent mist that shrouds the forests of Belarus to which In the Fog’s title refers as it is the murky morality that pervades a population caught between Nazi occupants and local partisans. Sergei Loznitsa’s film is a compellingly quiet affair, opening with a man accused of collaboration being led to his death by a former friend and only getting darker from there. The innocence he protests is the essence of the movie’s effect, putting us in the position of his would-be executioner and forcing us what we might do in such a situation. That the story’s explicated by a series of flashbacks, then, is disappointing; Loznitsa’s structure sees the film become more tense than thought-provoking. Still, it’s an absorbing experience, not least of all for the absence of all but diegetic sound and the technical grace of Loznitsa’s direction. This is a powerful piece indeed, if not perhaps as powerful as it might have been. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Only God Forgives (Read our full review)

Knowing about the intentions of Only God Forgives before or after you see it may affect your overall impression on it. Nicolas Winding Refn wanted to follow up his huge hit Drive with something that’s… well, the anti-Drive honestly. This is Refn in a rebellious outing, and the reactions have been hugely divided. You’ll see either a pretentious, boring rant or you’ll see one of the best movies of this year. I’m going with the latter. Julian (Ryan Gosling) learns that his downright evil brother has been brutally murdered, and when his mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) takes matters into her own hands, a retired detective who’s considered a legend decides to put a stop to this. Refn compacts huge bits of brutality into his Noe-inspired Bangkok tale. His fever-dream presentation—accompanied with another brilliant Cliff Martinez score—doesn’t have a lot of content. It’s all passion. Passion with a cold, cynical fist. See for yourself. MUST SEE. ~JB


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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Before the chest of a dead man, before the end of the world, and before Rob Marshall got his greasy hands on the franchise, the Pirates of the Caribbean name was new, fresh, and unexpected. An epic based on a Disney fun ride? How could this possibly wor… oh wait, never mind. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Rango) spends the run time wisely and fashions up the beginnings of a truly fun and exciting tale of plunder and mayhem. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, in his first Oscar-nominated role) is on a quest to get his ship, the Black Pearl, back from a band of pirates that are technically already dead. Depp and the cast put on a fantastic show, and the crew give us work that can be listed high on a resume. Yes the franchise has been a bit overexposed now, but don’t forget its wonderful beginnings. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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The American

George Clooney gives one of his best performances in Anton Corbijn’s The American, an immaculately crafted slow-burner of a thriller unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. Clooney stars as Jack, an assassin who goes to Italy for his last job. Jack is different from any of the characters Clooney has played in the past. It’s a quiet performance, bereft of the charisma usually associated with Clooney. There isn’t much dialogue, but Clooney has such a commanding presence, and Corbijn such a mesmerizing style, that it’s impossible to look away. Despite the film’s brilliance, it’s incredibly polarizing. The movie topped the box office its opening weekend, but was awarded a D on Cinemascore. This is not a fast-paced action film, so don’t go in expecting something in the vein of the Bourne movies. Instead, sit down, pour yourself a drink, and settle in for the artistic brilliance that is The American. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~DT


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The Joneses

“Whoever dies with the most toys wins”. There’s a good movie hiding somewhere in The Joneses, one that features an exciting concept that is executed brilliantly and allows for a great mix of hilarious satire and biting social commentary. However, the final product crafted by writer/director Derrick Borte for his first feature feels devoid of any depth to its characters and exerts little effort in making its premise interesting. David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth are the Joneses, a group of people with no blood relation to each other assembled by an ad agency and placed into a neighborhood to sell their lifestyle to other people in the neighborhood. Occasional moments of limited brilliance aside, The Joneses settles too often for the easy way of storytelling. We know every plot beat the movie covers. The cast is fun to watch, but ultimately plays it too safe. SO-SO. ~DT


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What Maisie Knew

In updating the Henry James novel to present-day New York, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have crafted with What Maisie Knew one of the most involving pictures about divorce since Kramer vs. Kramer. Where Robert Benton’s Oscar-winner focused more on the parent figures, What Maisie Knew tells its story entirely from the view of the child caught up in the midst of divorce. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan are Maise’s parents, and Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham are her eventual stepparents. Everyone turns in great work here, particularly Onata Aprile as the film’s title character. The decision to tell everything from Maisie’s point of view doesn’t always succeed, but the movie is never dull. It’s a heartbreaking story that reminds us who the real victims of divorce are. RECOMMENDED. ~DT

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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.