For better or for worse, everything around us has been touched by the digital revolution; it’s hard to think of a single aspect of modern life not in some way impacted by the omnipresent behemoth that is the internet. It might have taken them an embarrassingly long time to get here, but it looks as though the powers that be in the world of movies may finally be catching up with us, as streaming services seem to grow almost exponentially. Now many films are debuting online before in theatres, seasoned DVD collectors are opting for the cheaper and more convenient allure of video on demand, and a whole new world of titles that might never have found their way to our eyes before is suddenly available to all. But sometimes the selection can be daunting; trying to choose one film to view among a database of thousands is no mean feat, putting us in the position of a tiny audience of one in an almost infinite virtual video store. Not to worry though, Next Projection has got your back, and in this new weekly column I’ll not only be giving you the rundown on the latest movies available to stream, but also watching them and sorting the great from the awful so you don’t have to. So read on to find the hidden gems worth checking out, and be sure to share your thoughts on my findings. Happy streaming.
A well-meaning cancer drama that tackles grief with more earnest intention than technical skill, I Will Follow’s emotional impact is restrained by the inescapable presence of the term “TV movie of the week”. Direction with neither stylistic flair nor simplistic grace does the likeable story of a woman clearing out the home of her recently deceased aunt a disservice, but Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s central performance saves the day with commendable empathy. In spite of the film’s bothersome adherence to each expectation that comes with such a plot, she manages to instil in her character a powerful realism that grabs hold of our attention and keeps us interested through the weaker moments of tonal erraticism as new and uninteresting characters are introduced for single scenes. Perhaps worth a look for those seeking a simple story with a solid emotional core, it’s still not one I’d be quick to recommend. SO-SO.
Armed with a poetic visual sensibility and an intransigent attitude to conventional narrative that welcomes immediate comparison to Terrence Malick, Clay Jeter has created with his feature debut a stunning portrait of the philosophical turpitudes of adolescence and the ways in which we humans interrelate. As young friends separated by a hefty age gap, Sarah Hagan and Austin Vickers are terrifically cast, their characters’ sense of alienation from less than ideal domestic arrangements fully realised in two naturalistic performances that carry the film with reckonable vim. The elliptical and associative editing techniques are at once the film’s most fascinating aspects and the abstractions that will likely see less experimentally-inclined viewers frustrated, their brash departure from any sort of comfortable and familiar storytelling at times leaning toward the excessive. Jeter might not delve as deeply into these characters as he could have, but his assured aesthetic and impressive ambition shine clearly through. MUST SEE.
Thoroughly earning its Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Gore Verbinski’s western adventure could be taken as a heartfelt apology for the destruction the director’s Pirates series has unleashed on the good name of cinema. Doffing its ten-gallon hat to the genre classics of yesteryear at every turn, Rango even manages knowing winks to the likes of The Odd Couple and Fear and Loathing as it follows a lost chameleon pet through a Chinatown-inspired story. Inventive, witty, marvellously fun, and even in its final act quite dramatically engaging, its top-shelf voice cast lends a recognisable life to stock western characters, building on a generic formula to hilarious effect. Stunningly animated throughout, the attention to detail here is as comprehensive as the list of films duly pointed toward. Employing a gruff Eastwood doppelganger (Timothy Olyphant’s Clint impression is second to none) as the spirit of the west is as quick a way to my heart as any; Rango has the cheerful charm to win over anyone who gives it the chance. RECOMMENDED.
Doing for good ol’ Saint Nick what Troll Hunter did for the mythology of its own namesake, Rare Exports replaces the bonhomie-infested picture of Santa Claus postulated by the likes of Coca-Cola with a wickedly funny exploitation of the nastier elements of the Scandinavian Sinterklaas figure and its historical predecessors. Shaped around the idea that Father Christmas is not only very real, but very evil, it follows a little boy and his single father who become caught up in the action when a team of archaeologists awakens the dormant Santa and unleashes his army of vicious elves on the small Finnish town. Hilarious not least of all thanks to its utter oddity, this is a smartly written horror comedy destined to forever reside atop lists of the best alternative Christmas movies. Sweet and charming atop the laughs thanks to the genuine affection of this kid’s story, Rare Exports is one of the most madly fun movies of the last few years. RECOMMENDED.
For further evidence of just how good a film Rare Exports really is, one need only turn to the Netherlands’ Saint Nick, another Santa Claus reimagining that envisions him as a 15th century cleric returned from the dead to avenge his murder 500 years ago by brutally slaughtering the children of Amsterdam. A promising start steeped in delectable gore gives way to a completely unimaginative narrative arc that does shamefully little with an interesting premise, piling on the stupid comedy and jump-scares-by-numbers to yawn-inducing effect. Horror comedy is an immensely difficult formula to get just right, and here the futile attempts at an eerie atmosphere jar gratingly with poor efforts at laughs. Even the nice moments of squirmy violence are few and far between, separated by vast dull scenes of needless exposition from uninteresting characters. The availability of the film only in a clumsily dubbed American version hardly helps, confirming this as a Christmas gift best left unopened. AVOID IT.
Kicking off with a montage of Buenos Aires skylines set to the tune of a cynical observational voiceover, Gustavo Taretto’s debut feature owes a clear debt to Allen’s Manhattan (a debt it later lovingly pays). Following the fortunes of two unacquainted young people Mariana, an archaeologist cum storefront dresser, and Martin, a neurotic web designer whose omnipresent “survival kit” includes the Criterion edition of Play Time, Sidewalls exhibits in many ways the same sharp contemporary incisiveness as Tati’s film. The film’s great strength lies in its uncanny ability to use these characters as ciphers through whom to examine modern existence, exploring through them everything from the alienation of the digital age to the terror of financial instability. Its overall effect is sadly held back by a penchant for fantastical quirk that eschews true reality, but there’s a lot to admire in the easy charm of these characters and the universality of their situations. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Having made his bones as a comedic actor in the likes of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade makes his impressive debut as a writer/director with Submarine, an indie tale of young love and the crazy ways the fairer sex make teenage boys feel. Confidently cineliterate in its central conceit of protagonist Oliver directing in his mind an adaptation of his own life, it comes loaded with references aplenty and a firm determination to subvert conceptions of on-screen romantic pursuit. Ayoade’s comedy is insightful and loaded with subtle dramatic barb, not afraid to subject his characters to scrutiny as considerably less loveable than they seem on the surface. Touted by some as Wes Anderson-lite, Submarine has a strong authorial voice that resists such negative comparisons, helped considerably by a brilliantly deadpan Craig Robertson in the lead role. It never seemed to find the attention it deserves in the North American market; hopefully its availability on-demand will bring it to a much bigger audience. RECOMMENDED.
A solid Euro-thriller that finds its success in putting character and emotion above plot contortions or set pieces, this takes its time in familiarising the viewer with its lead before it begins a series of well-constructed twists and turns in plot. Set primarily around the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong that changes the lives of a security guard and his new girlfriend, The Double Hour may not be anything revolutionary, but considering the relative lack of experience of its director and three screenwriters it’s a success to be proud of. The final act is perhaps a little misjudged, not quite as successful as it might have been, but it does give way to a very strong ending that compliments the idea that this was always more about the who than the why. WORTH WATCHING.