Sci-fi on both ends of the spectrum, from high-Hollywood gloss to classic cult camp. A radical new approach to one genre, a rote old one to another. An intelligent update of an old classic, and a daring drive toward digital distribution’s new frontiers. Yes indeed, it’s another week on demand, and with it as varied an array of films new and old as anyone could ask for.
Few could fault Scott Rudin for his hesitance in entrusting a big budget to a first-time filmmaker based only on the strength of the script; The Truman Show turned out well enough with Peter Weir at the helm, but what Gattaca proved, not least of all by making it to cinemas first, is that Andrew Niccol was well up to the task. Whatever the pair of pictures taken together might say of his strengths as a screenwriter, there’s a visual confidence to Gattaca that’s indicative of a tremendous talent in the most cinematic sense. Ethan Hawke is excellent as a genetically inferior imposter intent on proving DNA does not determine destiny by realising his dream of space travel. Awash in hues of orange, it’s as pleasing a film to look at as to think about, a superbly smart sci-fi that suffers only slightly for its simplicity of dramatic structure. RECOMMENDED.
How I Live Now (Read our full review)
Again appropriating the aesthetic of his documentary background to genre fiction, Kevin Macdonald offers a fittingly fatalistic view of the future in How I Live Now, an intriguing if underwhelming adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s young adult novel. Saoirse Ronan is strong as ever as the American youth shipped to her English cousins’ country home at the dawn of World War Three, centring a low-key drama that’s alternately impressive in its bleak conviction and exasperating in the roteness of its romance. Ronan and George MacKay, at least, sell it well; so too does the immediacy of affection with which Macdonald shoots them. His palette nicely contrasts the passion and panic of love and war; where the writing tends to falter in making much of the material, he at least embellishes it visually. How I Live Now is, if nothing else, at least eminently watchable. WORTH WATCHING.
How to Be a Man
The sophomore feature production of Fox Digital Studios, a new imprint intent on adapting to the possibilities of on-demand viewing, How to Be a Man certainly stands as a striking image of the relative radicalism these new talents the studio plans to poach are afforded. Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes co-writes and stars as a former comedian whose breast cancer diagnosis prompts him to record a series of instructional videos for his unborn son, care of Liam Aiken’s nerdy graduate filmmaker. Audaciously irreverent to the last, it’s a movie that doesn’t much care if its protagonist comes across as a hideous man as he delves down a rabbit hole of drug-addled debauchery in efforts to truly prime his kid for the demands of modern masculinity. It’s the smart self-awareness that saves the film from its unerring unpleasantness, though the heights of hilarity here and there certainly help. WORTH WATCHING.
Night of the Comet
Only in the ‘80s could a movie like Night of the Comet have been made, in which two of the few survivors of an apocalyptic asteroid incident liberally loot to the tune of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Most everyone will, while watching this, a tongue-in-cheek treat that’s not so much a satire of sci-fi cinema as a strange hybrid of its tropes with John Hughes characters. The result is a mess, and very intentionally so: director Thom Eberhardt makes little effort to take things seriously, even the filter effects that render the sky red amusingly apparent throughout. Overacting abounds in the most endearing way imaginable, especially from a team of scientists not short on similarities to those of the next year’s Day of the Dead. Night of the Comet is nonsense of the most enjoyable order, the kind of cult classic whose right to that title nobody could question. WORTH WATCHING.
Terraferma (Read our full review)
Not only by title does Terraferma call to mind La Terra Trema, the Luchino Visconti classic whose shared seaside setting and focus on fishing families attests the Italian issues unchanged across some six decades of history. It’s an updating, in essence, a modern reimagining that, by virtue of how little needs reimagining, speaks to a world in which the rich-poor divide has scarcely shifted an inch. Emanuele Crialese’s film is a fine one, handsomely shot on the Mediterranean shores and smartly structured with an amusing irony that’s above all indignant at the way of the world. It is, alas, a tad too awash with superfluous subplots to entirely earn the right to don Visconti’s mantle; Crialese may have crafted here a film that’s capable to the last, but his length is felt twice as much in half the time. Still, he manages at least to be every bit as affecting. RECOMMENDED.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Thirteen years after being the man to first bring them together in Silver Streak, Arthur Hiller re-teamed with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor for See No Evil, Hear No Evil, an undoubtedly sillier picture than the pair’s first but one that no less benefits from the sharpness that made theirs so special a collaboration. As a blind man and a deaf man who become embroiled in a murder mystery, Wilder and Pryor indulge with slapstick abandon in a plot that’s knowingly nonsensical and all the more fun for it, their characters dependence on each other to survive a fitting image for the partnership’s comic faring. They are magnificent together, whether with the razor-sharp back-and-forth style of the dialogue or the simple buffoonery the respective disabilities facilitate. It says a great deal of the comic geniuses these two men were that, even with material as middling as this can be, they sell it supremely. WORTH WATCHING.
But if it was Silver Streak that launched the partnership, it was Stir Crazy that cemented it, developing the pair’s shared comic sensibilities and laying the groundwork—for better or for worse—for See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You to follow. It’s an awfully uneven movie, make no mistake, but one whose heights so tower that it almost doesn’t matter how scattershot they are. The poster says it best: “Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor dress up as woodpeckers and get framed for robbing a bank… and when they realise that prison life is for the birds they go… Stir Crazy”; this isn’t so much a plot as it is simply an excuse to toss this cast together, and given the gold they come up with that’s almost enough. There’s a moment of manic intensity in there from Wilder that’s on par with his Producers hysteria. It’s both good and bad that the movie’s about as contained. WORTH WATCHING.
What gorgeous imagery there is at the heart of Stand, Anthony Bonello and Nicolas Teichrob’s smartly-short documentary on the British Colombian coastline threatened by a proposed tanker route and the risks it involves. It’s the mark of good documentary direction to realise that nothing speaks more of the beauty of an area than great cinematography: informational as the interviews herein may be, Bonello and Teichrob know well that theirs is a movie much more impactful when just capturing the sights on hand. Not a film to trade too much in balance, it’s undeniably hampered by an approach to the subject that barely gives voice to opposing views, an explanatory note aside. Still, its being so short and sweet only lends weight to its points; framed around the pastime of paddle-boarding, Stand is a film with the sense to make its point and be done with it. WORTH WATCHING.
If not the kind of game-changing genre picture its publicity material might be keen to have us think, Valhalla is at least a sport film that transcends the limitation of insider appeal. Crafting a free-form framework that sees skiing sequences as the anchor to a loose, liminal narrative that elevates emotion above action, Nick Waggoner’s movie is an awesome experience in the true sense of the word. Half-whispered narration almost novelistic in its words is our guide to a story that, despite a linear structure named for the stages of life, is less concerned with its ostensible central character’s growth than exploring through him and the sublimely-shot scenes the idea of existence itself. If it sounds heady, it shouldn’t: Waggoner’s not one to intellectualise unduly, and his sequences of bare-skinned skiing attest the preternatural qualities of his picture’s approach. That you need to see it to get the idea is less important than the fact that you really should, too. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
A vantage point is the ideal setting for a film like Watchtower, forged on the little moments only close, careful viewing can hope to catch. Pelin Esmer’s second film takes obvious inspiration from countryman Nuri Bilge Ceylan in its quiet framing of the Turkish countryside; if it isn’t quite the cinematic treatment of the steppes that Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was, it shares at least that film’s fine sense of foreboding. That she’s a less assured director goes without saying—what sophomore filmmaker isn’t?—but Esmer’s is an aesthetic of uncanny allure all the same. Olgun Simsek and Nilay Erdonmez offer performances of remarkable restraint as the watchman and pregnant young girl each out to escape the world; if the script hasn’t always got the depth to reward audiences’ patience, they don’t care to let us know. Theirs is a tale that’s as unassuming as it is affecting. WORTH WATCHING.