This Week on Demand: 11/05/2014

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

Between the challenges of real life—we have those too, you know—and the downtime required to render Next Projection with such lush new look—is it not gorgeous?—we regret depriving you of your streaming guide last week. But we’re back and better than ever, with a bumper holdover from May’s first-of-the-month surge and a strong contingent, this week, of shiny new 2014 releases. As ever, they’re primarily of the DTV(OD) variety, and so, at least in part, not especially good, but it’s interesting to see this trend of new movies grow year on year. But that’s enough introductory waffle: there are a whole host of movies here for you to get through, and it would not do to keep you.


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1976: Hunt vs Lauda

Not so much piggy-backing on Rush’s release as seeming genuinely to want to fully flesh out the story, 1976: Hunt vs Lauda suffers less in comparison to Ron Howard’s fiction than to Asif Kapadia’s fact. Senna, his sublime 2011 documentary that allegedly offered key inspiration to Howard, surely can’t be beat where screen representation of F1 is concerned; the most gripping drama struggles to achieve a modicum of the tension Kapadia’s film forged. This TV movie, then, is disadvantaged to start, hardly helped by telling a story of the sport’s dangers that’s really rather similar and doing so with no trace of acumen at all. It’s not bad, in much the same way that the nine o’clock news isn’t bad: it merely is, and in this screen-saturated world of ours it’s easy to get this information in a much more interesting way. SO-SO. ~RD


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Adventures in Babysitting

If you were raised off of TBS and TNT movies like I was, then you will have fond memories of watching Adventures in Babysitting multiple times on TV. The story of Chris (Elisabeth Shue)—whose adventures with the Anderson children lead to a shady underworld of stabbed toes, Playboy centerfolds, and Vincent D’Onofrio mullets—will take you back to a more innocent time in your life. You continue watching the film because, in spite of the over-the-top nonsense of the plot, the characters are so relatable and charming that you can’t help but care for their well-being. From its opening dance sequence (which I have attempted on many occasions) to its romantic ending, you will fall under the charming spell of Christopher Columbus’ fluorescent colored world. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Against the Grain

An assistant editorial credit on Keeping Up with the Karshadians is among the experience accredited to writer/director Iram Parveen Bilal, who here makes a feature debut that, though utterly alien to the world of that show, carries a world-beyond-our-walls sentiment that’s difficult to differentiate from the director’s background. Aamina Sheikh gives a central performance that soars, if at times a little too high, as the well-to-do teacher whose life is shaken when her nanny vanishes without a trace. Though Bilal’s invocation of socio-political strife skews more toward context than content, Against the Grain is a movie with more on its mind than mystery. It feels, albeit all too consciously, like a worthy issue film, and one with enough in the way of confidence to combat the trifling timbre of Bilal’s pacing; the movie might not say enough, but it’s evidence aplenty that someone ought to speak up. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Anatomy of a Murder

It behoves the experience of watching Anatomy of a Murder, every now and again, to remind oneself that the year was 1959. Where still the sight of a married couple sharing a bed was frowned upon, here was Otto Preminger—ever an opponent of the oppressive Hays Code, who had challenged it throughout the decade with films like The Man with the Golden Arm—with a film in which rape formed a central issue. The reluctance with which the act is entered into evidence in the film mirrors that by which it stepped into the Hollywood spotlight; Preminger’s movie seems as bold now as it must have then, impassionately led by the iconic Jimmy Stewart and enthrallingly built by the slow-burn drama of Wendell Mayes’ script. Here is one of the finest courtroom thrillers of its time, a film as fresh and frenetic as the immortal Saul Bass titles that open it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Back in the Day

It’s the inevitably ugly truth of Netflix devotion that, for all the needles we might find stashed in that haystack, the stench of the rot can get a little much. Welcome to the catalogue, then, one of the year’s worst movies, an experience so repulsive it ought to be somehow converted to fuel. Back in the Day’s boys-will-be-boys nostalgia tour ought to be only harmlessly idiotic offal, but such is the insistent witlessness of debut director Michael Rosenbaum’s script that it isn’t content until it’s offended just about all in the audience. The kind of raunchy humour for which it aims is nothing to be sneered at; the level of lechery it instead attains is nothing if not risible. It says much of the horrors of 2014 that a worse movie has since released, but don’t let superlatives fool you: Back in the Day is a film so bad it’s… well, brutal. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


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Badges of Fury

It’s a shame that Badges of Fury isn’t any good; in the rare moments it manages to mask that fact, it’d almost have you fooled. Newcomer director Tsz Ming Wong manages some commendable kung fu choreography in the film’s opening scenes, rare merits soon lost amidst the heap of tedium the script piles atop. It’s written by Tan Cheung, who last penned the similarly senseless The Sorcerer and the White Snake; Jet Li, at least, looks a little more comfortable this time. He has fun alongside Zhang Wen and Shishi Liu as a trio of Hong Kong cops caught up in a creepy crime spree, though never are they entirely convincing as anything but three actors having a good time on set. The fun translates, at times, and if Badges of Fury’s slapstick style warrants no shortage of sighs, the cast at least meet it with a handful of smiles. SO-SO. ~RD


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Boys Don’t Cry

Hilary Swank deservedly won the Oscar for her performance as Brandon Teena, a transgender man whose happiness with his girlfriend, Lana (Chloe Sevigny), is short-lived. The discovery that Brandon was born a woman leads to hostility, violence, and rape at the hands of those he believed to be close friends. Kimberley Pierce’s well-researched and brilliantly acted film is a nuanced portrait of a man whose hardships lead to tragedy. It is a provocative look at transphobia, anchored by Swank’s emotional and complex performance. Boys Don’t Cry is an integral film for the LGBTQ community, creating a multi-dimensional transgender character that is rarely seen in films. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Nestled between The Godfather: Part III and Jack, to this day perhaps the most often dismissed efforts of his career, Francis Ford Coppola found fleeting success in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a steamily sanguine stylistic overhaul of the vampire’s earlier image in Hollywood. A more faithful take on the novel may not yet have been made; Coppola, working from Hook scribe James V. Hart’s screenplay, deviates in his depiction of the character’s oft-ascribed origins. His cast is a mixed bag: the men largely serve to show why their characters have traditionally been compounded; Keanu Reeves can scarcely manage to hold his accent across a syllable; Anthony Hopkins enjoyably munches the set; Winona Ryder’s unbridled sexuality well-essentialises the story’s concerns; Gary Oldman unites all under the agonised auspices of his oddly empathetic count. Few have had such fun with Stoker’s text; Coppola’s film is inessential, but what extraordinary, audacious fun it is. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

The success of the original Bridget Jones’s Diary relied heavily on its awkward humor and Zellweger’s pitch perfect performance (which was highly publicized due to Zellweger’s weight gain and British accent). Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason tries to play upon the success of the original, only managing to make a tired and predictable carbon copy of its predecessor. The sequel replicates everything: the humorous narration, the awkward daydreams, and even the romantic love triangle with the same two men (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant), but it lacks the originality and edge of the first installment. Bridget (Zellweger) is less of a character and more of a slapstick caricature of her former self, becoming a tired and predictable person who gets into zany antics. AVOID IT. ~JG


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Bullet

We have Tarantino and Rodriguez’s little pet project to thank, if blame isn’t a better word, for the new generation of Grindhouse aficionados riffing on the genre’s low-grade aesthetics with no sense of the irony that Death Proof and Planet Terror excused themselves with. They were a tip-of-the-hat to bad movies, a pair of slightly smart movies that perpetuated and played with indulgence in roughly equal measure. Films like Bullet and the many to share its leading man, meanwhile, are all indulgence all the time. This is a fretful bore of a film, frantically and flimsily shot with a misplaced affection that’s able only to exhaust our eyes. Director Nick Lyon and his three co-writers can’t muster a good line between them; the ever-reliable Jonathan Banks’ fury might easily have come from the dreck that’s his dialogue. Danny Trejo, for his part, just does his thing. How nice it would be to see him get a new one. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Candyman

If you say his name five times in the mirror, he will appear… hook and hand and all. What’s the reason why Candyman is such a beloved horror film? Freaking pick, because there’s more than one. I’ll start off with the intensely robust job writer/director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved) pulls off here. The screenplay’s structure is absolutely sound, and Rose’s accompanying direction acts like its own love letter of macabre. Combine that with the career-making performance of horror icon Tony Todd AND an overall brilliant turn from Virginia Madsen. Then combine all of that with its excellent make-up effects, and the cherry on the top? A triumphant, memorable score from Philip freaking Glass of all people! Yeah pick any one of those. It’s a horror experience you’ll never forget. MUST SEE. ~JB


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Diana

It blows my mind that the same man who directed Downfall with such assuredness would go on to make such a stinker here. Where Oliver Hirschbiegel’s movie about the last days of Hitler’s life in his bunker was a great look into the inner workings of one of the most terrifying regimes in history, Diana is anything but revealing. We know as much about the Princess of Wales leaving the movie as we did going in. What we are given is a repetitive bore of a movie with the emotional weight of a daytime soap opera. Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews try their best to make the stinker of a script work, but nothing can save a movie that never makes any sort of attempt to make its characters interesting. If you’re looking for a two-hour soap opera, I suppose this could be right up your alley. Otherwise, wait for the agonizing double feature when it’s paired with Grace of Monaco. AVOID IT. ~DT


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Encounters at the End of the World

The existential intensity of the Antarctic offers the ideal backdrop for the icy precision of Werner Herzog’s voiceover in Encounters at the End of the World, his documentary follow-up to the extraordinary Grizzly Man and a film that, together with that earlier effort, ensured the director’s newfound fame as a factual filmmaker. In both the physical and psychological sense, what drives humanity to such desperate places is what drives Herzog here, exploring the McMurdo Station as a peculiar paean to the dichotomous fibre of our being as solitary and communal characters not so different to a pathetic little penguin rushing off helplessly to a distant death. He cuts to the heart of human behaviour much as his voice on the soundtrack sifts through the platitudes of the people he interviews; the world and its end as seen through Werner Herzog’s eyes are odd things indeed, but how enlivening. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Fantastic Voyage

Scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) is comatose after an attempted assassination. Utilizing Benes’ revolutionary shrinking techniques, a five-person crew is shrunk down in order to eliminate Benes’ brain clot. While battling the body’s natural ability to fight off foreign bodies, the crew also faces the daunting task of figuring out who amongst them is a traitor. The plot serves as an excuse to show off the special effects (which include scale models, rear projection, and superimpositions). You don’t care as much for the subplots of assassination attempts, potential dangers, or even double-crossers. Heck, I was even more interested in seeing the filmmakers scramble for any chauvinist excuse to put Raquel Welch in skimpy clothes (there is even one point where the crew has to grab Welch’s curves multiple times in order to save her from the body’s immune system). Though dated, Fantastic Voyage is a fun reminder of how great pre-CGI special effects could be. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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From Dusk till Dawn

One of the most perfect concoctions of B-movie camp ever made, From Dusk till Dawn features a script written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez. The film opens with two criminals, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Tarantino), who are on the run from the law with their hostages, played by Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu. The trademark Tarantino dialogue is present, as is a wonderful amount of dark humor and chemistry between Tarantino and Clooney. However, halfway into the film the style shifts completely when the group goes to a bar and is faced with fighting a bar full of vicious vampires. It’s a strange shift, one many will no doubt find hard to buy. However, if this movie is right up your alley it is an incredibly entertaining ride. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. ~DT


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Gladiator

I was surprised after revisiting Gladiator for the first time in many years just how well the film holds up. One of the last great sword-and-sandal dramas to reach both critical and commercial acclaim, Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning film still resonates with this viewer today. Yes, some of the dialogue is rather cheesy and the action scenes do become a bit excessive. Most amusing is hearing how similar Hans Zimmer’s score is to the work he would later do on Pirates of the Caribbean. However, there are so many more great quotes than there are cringe-inducing ones and the action scenes are still very impressive and exciting. Furthermore, the great performances from Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Richard Harris help bring depth to a script that really doesn’t have much of it. After all these years, Gladiator still brings us to our feet cheering and reduces even the manliest man to a mess. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~DT


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Having You

Few would think to dispute that the change undergone by Having You’s protagonist in the course of the film constitutes a commendable character arc; the problem, as with all too many indies of this ilk, is in just how much it feels like an arc. Less an engaging character piece than a movie that hits on obvious beats, Sam Hoare’s feature debut suffers—and how—for never making its leading man feel much like one worth rooting for. That’s no fault of Andrew Buchan, who plays him with the right mix of schlubby and sorry, more the mistake of a movie that misconstrues the arrival of a former one-night stand and her seven year-old son as an injustice visited upon the now-engaged bloke. A typically trite spate of slightly less pleasant peripheral characters is a poor effort to earn our interest; Having You, for all its niceties, never has us. SO-SO. ~RD


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Hook

More a nostalgic guilty pleasure for some than a good movie, Steven Spielberg’s Hook is ultimately worth the watch for its performances and memorable scenes. The movie shows us a Peter Pan (Robin Williams) who has grown up, gotten married and had kids. However, he must remember his past and go back to Neverland after Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children. The casting here is perfect, and Williams and Hoffman are so enjoyable to watch in their roles. The story involving Peter and the relationship with his children never really works and ultimately drags the story down. There’s also a weird subplot involving Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) that never really goes anywhere. The scenes with the Lost Boys are memorable and fun, as are any moments where Williams gets to inject his magic into the story. It’s enjoyable in spurts, but for a Peter Pan movie made by the great Steven Spielberg, it feels too restrained and lacking in scope. WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


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Ichi the Killer

Most serial killers might think Ichi the Killer a little much. Takashi Miike’s super-sanguineous gangster thriller remains notably banned in a number of countries, most of whom halted its release solely on the reputation of patrons passing out in theatres and sending streams of vomit down the aisles. The legend, even if apocryphal, seems apt: this is an extraordinary violent film, a fitting function of any movie intent on a discussion of the cult and culture of blood. Miike’s set-pieces, often silly and sickening in equal measure, play to a plot that’s keen on confronting viewer expectations; it’s a capable companion piece, then, to the gender dialogue of Audition, and a film whose sight on sexuality is as interesting as anything else. It’s not, though, as nuanced, and amid all the streams and swathes of blood that make the movie such audacious entertainment, it’s easy—for Miike, most of all—to slip and miss the point for a minute. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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In the Name of…

Following on from the mistakenly maligned Elles, which used another of Juliette Binoche’s bravura domestic performances to explore sexuality as expression of identity, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska turns to the heart of her homeland with In the Name of…, a rural romance between an in-denial gay priest and one of his charges at a home for troubled teens. It’s a difficult film, not least of all for its flaws: where the plot’s sensitive subject matter might seem to offer challenges, it’s in Szumowska’s sagging script that things really go wrong, in the mismatched pacing of her plotting rather than the peculiarity of the tone that the film loses its way. It does so late in the game, too; if In the Name of… emerges an odd misfire in many regards, it’s one that weirdly works to a certain point, nailing the sort of sensitive sadness in which its finale fatally lacks. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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Jamesy Boy

It’s no great shock, given its subject’s role as producer, that the remarkably unremarkable “inspirational” true story behind Jamesy Boy should play so close to hagiography. James Burns flies in the face of youth crime statistics if a closing title card is to be believed; he does so, it’s all the film can do to suggest, by deciding to stop committing youth crimes. It’s a commendable change of life course, no doubt, but especially as scripted by Lane Shadgett and director Trevor White, it’s a terribly standard one too. They draw on cinematic tales innumerable to make a decidedly uncinematic one of this; don’t let faces like James Woods’ and Ving Rhames’ fool you, this is a TV movie all the way. That it happens to be a well-acted one, in spite of all the anticipated beats its cast is asked to hit along the way, can only go so far to help. SO-SO. ~RD


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Kill Bill Vol. 1

It’s a truth, generally, as old as the hills: tell a promising young artist what a genius they are and they’ll take their craft and crawl up their own backside. So goes Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 1, not a bad piece of work by any sort of standard, but one so far removed from the pop-culture panache of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and the world-weary wonder of Jackie Brown—whose relative commercial failure is telling, and tragic—that one can’t but wonder if the old Quentin isn’t dead and gone. The one born here is awash in indulgence; Mark Kermode described the film, brilliantly, as like being in a room with a teenager who won’t engage you in conversation and insists only in showing you scenes from his favourite movies instead. That they’re good is little help; this is just pastiche pointillism, a film with no identity—or idea—of its own. SO-SO. ~RD


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Kill Bill Vol. 2

From the self-satisfied “here we go again” intro to the emotional void of the closing scenes, things take only a turn for the worse in volume the second, a film again obsessed with playing with others ideas and insistently opposed to any of its own. If Tarantino must indulge in this sort of fanboy fanfare—and, really, must he?—it’s at least in our interest to have it exciting as in the first film’s animated and action excesses. This more contemplative counterpart suffers, and how, from having nothing much to mull over. That Uma Thurman’s well-played The Bride is oft-counted among the great female film heroes isn’t far short of a joke; like everyone here, she registers barely, lacking a trace of the humanity to be found in Jackie Brown’s figures. It’s not bad, again, but for what once seemed a strong new voice in cinema here had taken a quantum leap backward. SO-SO. ~RD


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Kiss the Girls

Before it was turned over to Tyler Perry, and before Along Came a Spider sort of killed that specified franchise progression, Kiss the Girls was a major promise that was delivered back in 1997. Said promise was the start of adventures involving detective Alex Cross, who’s been the subject of countless books from author James Patterson. Morgan Freeman plays Cross, and his investigation of a female-focused serial killer gets a major break when Dr Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) escapes. Developments ensue, and while it’s a little cliché, director Gary Fleder (Don’t Say a Word) treats it like a brand new beast which helps it in the long run, as does the top-notch performance provided my Mr Freeman. He establishes the trust, and lets us in to that character’s world. It’s just too bad it didn’t work out to better-quality follow-ups. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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Kiss the Water

What a wonderful documentary is Kiss the Water, Eric Steel’s intrinsically unassuming portrait of the late fishing fly-tier Megan Boyd, the kind of film with a manner to match the life it relives. There’s much conjecture from the many personal and professional acquaintances the film fills itself with as to the irony of such beauty being used for such barbarism, but that’s a kind of easy antithesis the movie in its own right resists. Peculiar poeticism is more Steel’s register; between the animated interludes, the alluring score, and of course the quiet cadence of the Scottish brogue, Kiss the Water lends lyrical grace as soothing as the bob of a line on a river’s face at dawn to its subject. If a sharper edit to reel in ramblers might be missing, you might well be too seduced to see; this is a lovely piece, great refreshment born of the most unlikely source. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Lost in Thailand

It’s a comedy and it’s set on Thailand: what’s the bet we’re going to get a ladyboy joke? Lost in Thailand sure strives to set the bar low with its first few gags, almost entirely pinned to the country’s infamous sexual tourism and a lot of loud shrieking; that it continues to hit it afterward, then, is at least a victory on its own terms. It’s difficult to imagine too many people being taken in by this crude caper where an odd couple unite after one of them loses his passport in the midst of a contrived plot to beat a co-worker to a contract, but those who are ought to love it. It’s that kind of humour, hitting the same beats again and again and again, often just stupid slapstick and rarely with very much tact. It’s nonsense; or the most part, at least, it’s all rather inoffensive nonsense. AVOID IT. ~RD


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Madrid, 1987

There’s nothing as cramped as the central metaphor in Milan, 1987, David Trueba’s Spanish drama set in the confines of a small apartment bathroom when a seedy older journalist and the young student set to interview him become trapped there overnight. Here are exemplars of Spain new and old, left to contemplate themselves and each other as the extraordinary summer heat slowly strips them of patience and sexual boundaries. That the film doesn’t seem to recognise the creepiness of its central concept—the journalist, even before they become trapped, is relentlessly predatory—is a concern, though never so much as the inability of Trueba’s script and direction both to lend the scenario the sort of socio-political significance it strives for. Strong, complementary work from José Sacristán and María Valverde at least offers much to enjoy; Madrid, 1987 is an intriguing idea never entirely able to birth a particularly interesting film. SO-SO. ~RD


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Metallica Through the Never

Metallica Through the Never is something like a fever pitch dream. The good kind: the kind that stays with you, hangs around and drinks a beer while politely fist-fielding your brain. Trip (an awesome Dane DeHaan) skates into the arena on the night the legendary band is set to perform an all-out show. Being a glorified roadie, the crew send him out on a must-accomplish-at-all costs mission (sort of) and what he thinks will be a simple task turns into the stuff both dreams and nightmares are made of. To be honest, as I was watching this majesty of madness concocted by director Nimrod Antal (Predators, Vacancy) taking shape and enjoying myself immensely, I thought to myself… why aren’t all concert films like this? What took so long? Hopefully this will be the start of something amazing for that sub-genre. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Re-teaming with Frank Capra after their box office success in the previous year’s You Can’t Take It with You, Jimmy Stewart entered the ‘40s and the next stage of his career with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, earning the actor his first Oscar nomination and cementing the honest-to-goodness star persona he’d long go on to sustain and subvert. In an age as cynical as ours, home to political portrayals like House of Cards and Veep, it might be easy to dismiss the film as idealistic; its conceits of Capitol corruption, though, raised ire in its time, Capra’s daring to critique the political practices of big government decried as distortive. Still, like even the bleaker Stewart-Capra collaboration to follow, the film’s romantic at heart; if the thrill of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington comes from its calling out wrong-doing, it’s the passion of Stewart’s filibuster centrepiece that makes its idealism an immortal idyll to adore. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Much Ado About Nothing

Shot on the sly in the director’s own home in the two weeks of downtime between shooting and editing on The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing feels like the super-charged über-indie alternate to the studio scale of that Marvel mega-blockbuster. Indeed, if the superb balancing act that film’s script enacted proved Whedon’s writerly cred, his Shakespeare adaptation seems a distinct effort to evidence directorial control. It’s a shrewd choice of material; the levity of the Bard’s ludicrous cross’d-wires comedy lends itself well to the bubbling chemistry of Whedon’s cast, assembled from collaborators over the course of his career. Regulars Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, and Sean Maher are standouts, though amidst this lot there’s nary a weak link in wringing the material for all its worth. Whedon’s wry ability to acknowledge the enterprise’s absurdity, in all its ear-tuning oddity, is what makes it a wonder; as holiday projects go, Much Ado About Nothing’s hard to best. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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Muscle Shoals

Greg Camalier’s Muscle Shoals is an interesting companion to 20 Feet from Stardom. It is a documentary about the “Muscle Shoals” sound that emanated out of the titular Alabama town during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Camalier interviews a wealth of record producers, artists, and background musicians, chronicling the rise of FAME studios and the dissolution that occurred between its key members. The film is a complex portrait of the fascinating history of the small town’s relationship to the recording industry. The only strange moments are artsy interludes, during which the interviewees’ unrelated anecdotes are played against images of running water. In spite of these strange interludes, it is a finely tuned documentary that reveals behind the scenes information about some of the greatest songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Pain & Gain

Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain is a film that celebrates excess and the ridiculous. Its characters are something straight out of a Coen brothers movie, and it’s mind boggling that they are based on real people. Three body builders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) conspire to pull off a kidnapping and extortion scheme that ultimately goes terribly wrong. It’s not a deep movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is full of strange humor, stories that are so bizarre they have to be true. It is also anchored by its performances, particularly Dwayne Johnson’s. This movie is hilarious satire, but its excessive running time and lack of any true depth ultimately weigh it down from being something truly great. WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


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Paper Moon

Amidst the emergent film-schooled American filmmakers of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, perhaps none boasts the same wealth of knowledge as the critically-inclined Peter Bogdanovich, whose fondness for his forebears is the essence of his excellent debut Targets and here in Paper Moon too. An old-school road movie in the vein of John Ford’s cross-country narratives, it’s a delight of a film that plays as much to that era’s concerns as to its own; indeed it’s an apt accompaniment to the kind of films Wim Wenders came to America to make not many years later. Tatum O’Neal, still the youngest competitive Oscar winner of all time, is a joy as the could-be daughter of a con man played by real-life father Ryan; the pair between them lend Alvin Sargent’s sublime script a dichotomous levity and loneliness that builds the relationship without ever burying the gags. Bogdanovich, true to form, shoots like the best. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


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School Daze

There’s a palpable urgency in Spike Lee’s second feature, a clear desire to examine issues still relevant all these years later. Based loosely on his own experience, School Daze examines the inner workings of an African-American college. We are shown the tension between “wannabees” and “jigaboos”, and in one of the film’s more memorable scenes we get an interesting look at the relationship between African Americans who went to college and those who didn’t. Interspersed between these and other campus issues are a frustratingly excessive amount of musical numbers which aren’t engaging and go on far too long. Performances by the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito and Lee help carry the movie, though the over-the-top nature of Lee’s style might take some getting used to. The feeling of urgency is too often drowned out by Lee’s excessive style and overuse of musical numbers, but it is a worthy if minor entry in the director’s canon. WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


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Single White Female

Allison “Allie” Jones (Bridget Fonda) is a program designer whose personal life is a bit of a hot mess. While dealing with her fiancé’s infidelity, Allie advertises for a roommate to share her gorgeous New York flat. Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) answers the ad, bringing along all of her belongings (including a penchant for identity theft and homicide). Barbet Schroeder’s Single White Female is what Persona could be if it were less abstract, more homicidal, and took place in New York during the ‘90s. It is a slick and sly thriller with a quasi-sadomasochistic look to its visuals. Fonda is superb as the fragile Allie, while Leigh is phenomenal as the manipulative Hedra, who is willing to kill puppies and steal pixie haircuts. It is a provocative look at the ‘80s/‘90s fear of unhinged women. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


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Starman

Responding to an invitation on a gold phonographic disk, an alien (Jeff Bridges) descends onto earth and takes the shape of the recently deceased husband of Wisconsin widow Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Trying to return back to his civilization, Jenny takes him on a cross-country trip to Arizona, avoiding police and federal officials at every turn. Carpenter’s film boasts a batch of dated ‘80s effects (although the Alien transforming into Jeff Bridges is visually interesting), but what really sells the movie is Bridges’ awkward performance as the titular Starman. Bridges performs his role as an infantile creature who has no basic understanding of Earth beyond what was presented on the disk. His childlike state, coupled with his awkward movements, make his evolving relationship with Jenny all the more compelling and heartbreaking. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


twd8

St. Elmo’s Fire

Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire is pretty to look at, but empty on the inside. It is a film about a group of college friends who deal with relationships, infidelity, suicide, etc., all the while meeting for a drink at their favorite bar. Schumacher paints their privileged angst with 1980s tones as they are caught in between the detention halls of The Breakfast Club and the midlife crises of “thirtysomething”. Their stories aren’t compelling and their redeeming qualities, if you can call them that, are deplorable. They clutch their pearls while they cheat on their boyfriends, and they contemplate suicide while listening to angsty emo music in their lush apartments. They are stand-ins for real human beings, lacking both humanity and emotional depth. AVOID IT. ~JG


twod23

The Anonymous People

It’s difficult to describe documentaries like The Anonymous People as much else than well-meaning, a faint-praise-damn that does a certain disservice to the vagaries of difficult emotion they do well to tap. But when there are so damn many of them, they begin to blend together a tad. That’s why it’s such a shame that Greg D. William’s earnest effort of a film never feels like a film very much at all; it belongs to that school of documentary that uses the camera for convenience rather than craft. And why, with a cause so worthy, shouldn’t it? His lacking concessions to the eye render the stories of drug addiction and a broken system that William’s paints no less harrowing; if he hasn’t the skill to serve satisfying cinema, he’s at least made a video of a tale that ought to be told. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


twd9

The Big Chill

Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill is an intriguing look at a group of baby boomers who cope with mortality as best they can. A group of college friends reunite after the suicide of one of their own. They stay at a vacation home for the weekend, catching up on one another’s lives. Aided by a fantastic soundtrack, Kasdan portrays each character as desiring something to fill his or her empty void: one person wants a baby, another person wants to have an affair, another takes drugs, etc. It is a colorful, and sometimes emotional, look at a group of friends whose only way to cope with death is to keep on living and indulging in all that life has to offer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


twd10

The Buddy Holly Story

Steve Rash’s account of Buddy Holly’s rise to fame (along with his unexpected death) is one of the better musician biopics, primarily because of its short time frame. Unlike most biopics, which try to condense decades into two hours and create a character arc that involves infidelity, drugs, etc., The Buddy Holly Story chronicles the active years of Holly (Gary Busey), right before his untimely death (the death itself is not shown, it is referenced on a title card). Busey is at his best, encapsulating the look and feel of Holly’s music (he plays his own instruments and sings the songs himself). It is a stellar film that doesn’t seek to create a formulaic character arc, but instead presents a short period in the life of a legendary musician. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


twd11

The City of Lost Children

The City of Lost Children follows a series of characters ranging from diabolical twins and ragamuffins to anthropomorphized fleas and loveable strong men who are tangentially related to Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a mad scientist who kidnaps children in order to steal their dreams. The visuals of the film are truly outstanding, providing a zany and madcap setting for the convoluted, and sometimes aimless, plot. Though I prefer co-directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and Jeunet’s Amélie, The City of Lost Children is a charming film filled with creative characters. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, allowing you to suspend your disbelief for every insane twists and turns. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


twd12

The Horde

This is one of the first contemporary Russian films I have seen, so bear with my somewhat negative review. Andrei Proskin’s The Horde depicts the Mongolian rule over most of Eurasia. It focuses on Saint Alexius (Maksim Sukhanov) who heals the Kahn’s mother, Taidula (Roza Khayrullina) of her blindness. Though the costume designs, locations, and makeup (especially that of Taidula) are exquisite, I had no connection to the film. It felt disjointed to me, more aimed at depicting the barbarity of the time than focusing on the central story. It is disjointed, and sometimes aimless, but I may just be biased because of my unfamiliarity with Eurasian history. SO-SO. ~JG


twd13

The Incredible Melting Man

Steve West (Alex Rebar) is the only surviving astronaut from a flight to Saturn. Contaminated by radiation, Steve’s skin begins to melt until he is a gooey blob of homicidal rage. The only person who can stop Steve’s raging blood lust is Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning), a monotone doctor who frequently reminds people that his name is Ted Nelson. Though the film boasts some fantastic makeup by Rick Baker, William Sachs’ cheesy sci-fi thriller lacks the longevity of cult films. True, it has terrible lines, awkward acting, and a rant about Ted’s wife not buying crackers, but its canned sensibility lacks the oomph necessary to make it a pop culture staple. You’re better off watching the MST3K version (at least you’ll get some intentional laughs). SO-SO. ~JG


twd14

The Prince of Tides

Based on the novel by Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides follows Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte), a Southern teacher whose crumbling marriage and suicidal sister are pushing him to the breaking point. Tom meets with his sister’s psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand), who tries to unearth the secret that Tom’s family is hiding. Thank God for sweater-clad and freshly manicured Barbra Streisand, whose campy ‘90s melodrama is just what this gay boy needed. The film has its earnest moments (the revelation of Tom’s secret is sobering), but it also has a plethora of cheesy goodness, including an overly dramatic score and corny dialogue that always seems to revolve around how pretty Susan Lowenstein is. You can’t help but be mesmerized by these characters, especially Susan Lowenstein who throws books at her patients and has a concealed minibar in her office. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


twd15

Thérèse

Thérèse Desqueyroux (Audrey Tatou) is a bored bourgeois housewife who makes the unexplained decision to start poisoning her ailing husband, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche). Claude Miller’s final film, based on the novel by François Mauriac, is great looking like a period piece (with gorgeous set design, costuming, and cinematography), but it lacks the necessary edge to critique its moral values. It never really reveals what Thérèse is rebelling against (is it religion, bourgeois culture, chauvinism, sheer boredom?), resulting in a film that is more of a chore to endure than a pleasure. Moreover, Tatou’s portrayal lacks charisma, which is necessary to pull off a dynamic character like Thérèse. SO-SO. ~JG


twod24

The Selfish Giant

One of this young century’s most striking documentaries, Clio Barnard’s extraordinary The Arbor featured actors mouthing the taped testimony of the film’s subjects in expressive tableaux vivants at once eerily unreal and uncannily of this world too. This move to fiction has much the same effect; channelling the verité story style of Ken Loach—to the extent that Netflix imposes obligatory, under-done subtitles over the undeniably thick English accents—amidst the understated sublime of the Oscar Wilde short story to which the title alludes, The Selfish Giant is a film of extraordinarily expressive beauty amidst ugliness unimaginable. Debut performers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas quickly join the gallery of the cinema’s tragic children; their funny foulness endears us all the more as they struggle in a social system where childhood innocence is as alluring as it is extinct, trapped amidst the foreboding of Barnard’s beautifully bleak landscapes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


twod25

Unidentified

The worst of The Hangover meets the best of Cloverfield meets a mild streak of strong body horror in Unidentified, a mostly imaginative but eventually unsustainable found footage alien adventure from debut director Jason Richard Miller, whose background in special effects is the sole significant mark made in this crossover effort. The humour, ranging from reasonable risqué to really rather risible, is the Achilles heel of this interesting idea, which takes a slow-burn approach to the eventual oddity of its extraterrestrial conceits. That might work better with more interesting characters; while the time spent in advance affords Miller ample opportunity to build the boys up, neither his script nor any of their four performances are engaging enough to earn the kind of tension he later strives for. Still, there’s a handful of laughs scattered among an at least energetic narrative here. SO-SO. ~RD


twod26

Where I Am

There’s a superb strength to the way the camera of Where I Am lingers, denying us the cut we might call for like a traumatised mind refusing to leave the subconscious scene of the crime. It’s a fitting conceit here by debut documentarian Pamela Drynan, who joins the American writer Robert Drake as he returns to the Irish town of Sligo where, twelve years-prior, he was beaten close to death for being a gay man. The slowness of speech belies a man with a great deal to say; the damage done to Drake is harrowing, his heavily-breathed talk of the end of his literary career as upsetting as the ex-boyfriend who attests his erstwhile warmth. Drynan keeps things wisely short and swift, lingering on consequences but never on tears; Where I Am may emerge an emotionally explicit film, but none could accuse it of being manipulative. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


twd16

You Will Be My Son

Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) is successful in winemaking, but terrible at being a father. Uninterested in passing his estate to his own son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), Paul aims to make Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), the son of Paul’s steward, the heir to his business. As many critics have noted, Gilles Legrand’s film has a knack for shifting between domestic genre and tense thriller. His sumptuous film, colored in amber tones, constructs questionable characters who are each looking out for themselves. Death is ever-present, and scenes of monotonous work suddenly turn into situations of rage and anger (Martin stabs his hand at one point in order to express his hatred of his father). It is a beautifully-acted film, especially by Arestrup whose villainous motives hide beneath a charming veneer. RECOMMENDED. ~JG

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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.