This Week on Demand: 27/04/2014

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Editor’s Note: Reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle and Jose Gallegos

Memory’s short with so many movies over so many weeks, but it’s a while I think since our humble column here had a selection so lacking in anything especially of note to hoist upon you. That’s not to say we’re without a host of recommendations; while nothing here quite has us excitedly enthused, there’s at least a few stray titles of note. Next week, with May’s first-of-the-month content explosion to sate us, we ought to fare better.


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Charlie Countryman

It should come as little surprise to anyone who’s seen the film that Charlie Countryman was made by a director who cut his teeth on music videos and commercials. Fredrik Bond has a fine eye for a good shot, a strong sense of cohesion to his sequences, and a certain aesthetic vibrancy that brings out the wackier aspects of his feature debut. What he hasn’t got, at all, is any idea how to make a movie that hangs together as anything beyond a group of loosely-interrelated things happening. The tonal sensibility here—rather the utter lack thereof—is stupefying, sequences existing in an emotional register entirely divorced from those either side. That the film tends largely to succeed within much of these makes it all the worse: had Bond and his writer Matt Drake—one name among several on Project X—the sense to settle on one story here the movie might well be fun. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Come Undone

Sébastien Lifshitz’s Come Undone follows the relationship between Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Cedric (Stéphane Rideau). The two spend their romantic summer on the French coast, making love in the dunes and exploring all that the pier has to offer. Lifshitz intercuts these blissful moments with a different temporal plot line involving Mathieu’s attempted suicide after his and Cedric’s breakup. These intersecting narrative threads create an intriguing juxtaposition of blind romance confronting a cold and stark reality. The handling of the material becomes a bit jumbled after a while, but it still shows a powerful and emotional romance that rivals any of those depicted in the stereotypical gay films on Netflix. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Danny Deckchair

Tonal imbalance aplenty in Danny Deckchair too, the directorial debut of the storyboard artist Jeff Balsmeyer, based on the tale of a man who lifted himself to the heavens in a lawnchair tethered to helium balloons. There might be no actor better-suited to the blend of eccentricity and sadness befitting the character, a Australian builder looked down upon by his real estate agent girlfriend, than the great Rhys Ifans; what he brings to the film before its wacky flight is nothing shy of wonderful. What he brings to it afterward, once Danny lands and improbably becomes the local hero of a town who somehow miss his face all over national media, is simply not enough. But nothing could be: Danny Deckchair is goofy nonsense through and through, barely able to raise a laugh in its tedious rom-com trappings. Given Balsmeyer’s background, it’s appallingly uninteresting to look at, too. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Don Jon

What promise there is in the montage that opens Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, as the kind of highly-sexualised imagery we’re used to seeing in every advert flashes across the screen to the tune of JGL’s efficiently meat-headed voiceover. This is a smart script, equally attuned to the improbably expectations both men and women have been given by the media of love and sex, and the lines between the two. Why it isn’t such a smart film, then, is something of a mystery: with his characters consciously constructed as satirical shells, Gordon-Levitt progresses simply to make a love story around them, as though expecting us to appreciate them as real humans too. We can’t if he doesn’t, and Don Jon’s latter-half lapses into a drama as competently-mounted as it is remarkably rote. Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johannson do much to help in support, and it’s always nice to have Tony Danza back on screen. SO-SO. ~RD


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Exit Through the Gift Shop

There’s much to be said for 2010 as the year we started to think about documentary cinema afresh. There was nothing new in the medium coming to question its own assumed truths, of course—Man with a Movie Camera was doing that as far back as the 1920s—but the Sundance premieres of Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop brought to the fore the idea of fact as stranger than fiction. Banksy’s is a playful treat of a film, a devilish romp in which what “really” happened is less important than the questions it raises, and the ideas of art and its value that come to be considered in the course of the fun. Its haggard qualities, like the street art that gave the director the very fame with which this movie is concerned, are part of the charm; Exit Through the Gift Shop’s a film with an awful lot to say. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Instructions Not Included

Valentin (Eugenio Derbez) is a Mexican playboy with a lot of phobias (heights, snakes, etc.). When one of his hookups leads to an abandoned baby at his doorstep, Valentin does anything he can to provide for the child (including, as incredulous as it sounds, becoming a Hollywood stuntman). Eugenio Derbez’s Instructions Not Included is as syrupy a melodrama as they come, borrowing many techniques from telenovelas (cheesy effects, aimless plotlines, celebrity “look-a-likes,” and stupid jokes). What saves the film is the rapport between father and daughter, whose relationship is chronicled up to its tearful climax. I recommend having a box of tissues handy because you will not be prepared for the last ten minutes of the film. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Jailbait

Jared Cohn’s jigglefest is less grounded in reality and more grounded in a Russ Meyer film. It tells the story of Anna (Sara Malakul Lane) who goes to jail after she accidentally kills her abusive stepfather. Anna endures everything from manipulative wardens to rival prison gangs, leading her to experiment with drugs and attempt suicide. Dramatic, right? Cohn’s film is set in a strange prison fantasy where women have access to iPhones, underwire bras, and heroin. It is a horrible and problematic film that uses a faux-feminist stance to exploit big-breasted actresses in unrealistic lesbian scenes. Cohn tries to hide his exploitative elements in order to make his film seem “real” and “emotionally raw,” but it is just another chauvinist fantasy wrapped in sheep’s clothing. AVOID IT. ~JG


 

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Odd Thomas

It’s an appropriate adjective that grabs the eye on Odd Thomas’ poster: what an odd, odd, odd film this is. Were one less-well informed, it might be fair to assume its delay (due to legal troubles) was actually the fault of the distributor having no good clue what to do with it. Either way it’s unlikely they did. Anton Yelchin stars in a fantasy-inflected romance that looks, for all the world, like another film-by-numbers YA adaptation, but between the Dean Koontz source novel and writer/director Stephen Sommers’ strange treatment thereof, the resultant movie is something quite different indeed. That’s a good and a bad thing in about equal measure: cloying romance and dodgy CGI belie some strong comedy and a story that’s surprisingly ruthless when it comes to it. It’s as much for the peculiar flavour of its failures as the unexpected successes that Odd Thomas, however odd, comes to be so watchable. SO-SO. ~RD


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The Benchwarmers

Those who decry Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Production as the nadir of modern cinema, quite simply, haven’t seen enough movies. Here at This Week on Demand HQ we’ve sunk so far below the bottom of the barrel that the work of Sandler and co. seems a treat by comparison. Though let’s not get ahead of ourselves here: The Benchwarmers isn’t any good at all; it’s a poorly acted, barely written mess with a sense of humour that panders clearly to those too young—if the MPAA has anything to say about it—to get in. It’s also, in parts, a little offensive, risibly retrograde in its attitude to anyone who isn’t a straight male. It ought not be watched, indeed, but to suggest it’s as low as humanity has sunk on screen is just silly. Perhaps this seems like praising with faint damnation. Praise is rather a strong word. AVOID IT. ~RD


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The Hunting Party

“Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true” winks the title card of The Hunting Party, instantly endearing itself to anyone sick of those movies whose real-life inspiration is evidently a far cry from what we see onscreen. Evidently Richard Shepard is the playful sort, and his script’s sense of fun in tackling the story of a trio of journalists who go hunting a Bosnian war criminal is invaluable indeed. What’s less so is the pitiful structure, which is poor enough before reaching the climax and deciding simple to side-step half the story. Richard Gere does well with an interesting role; he’s an actor who conveys more depth than he tends to be credited for, and here—for all the surrounding flaws—he does that well. Jesse Eisenberg and Terrence Howard flesh things out well; the three between them ensure that the story gets its due, right up to the point Shepard denies it. AVOID IT. ~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.