Another week, another horde of new streaming titles that might never have found an audience without the wonders of video on demand. Unfortunately in the case of several of these, they never deserved an audience in the first place. Underwhelming documentaries; sub-par horrors; stiflingly average indies: it seems internet streaming was almost made solely to cater to these categories of film. As ever, though, there are a few diamonds to be found in the rough; read on to discover the few among this week’s latest VOD titles that deserve your attention.
Swarming in the maudlin sensibilities all too many comedy-dramas fall prey to, this ostensible coming-of-tale set on the Isle of Man from first time director MacCormick has a good deal less to say on the subject of psychological burden than its metaphorical title might suggest. Though aided by the charming Felicity Jones as a puritanical would-be Oxford scholar enlivened by the arrival of feisty enfant terrible Jessica Brown-Findley at her family’s coastal B&B, Albatross never manages to successfully segue between its comic and dramatic elements. From time to time the script—the first by Tamzin Rafn—throws the performers a meaty scene that bears emotional weight, but for the most part it’s an uneasy blend of noodly indie whimsy and ill-sketched characterisation that never really manages to say as much about its characters as the frustratingly typical ending suggests it thinks it has. SO-SO.
Aided considerably by a beautifully emotive score, writer/director/producer/editor Miraz Bezar’s political passion project following young siblings Gülîstan and Firat in the wake of their parents’ murder shines a light on the startling conditions of life in ‘90s Turkey. The strength of the two child actors at the centre of the film is remarkable, the wide-eyed innocence of Senay Orak as harrowing in its emotional effect as the quiet pain of Muhammed Al. Examining along the way everything from the threat of paramilitary forces to the problem of street prostitution, it diverges at times and loses sight of the emotional core which should remain constant throughout. Benefitting nonetheless from a sharp sense of comedy operating through a consistently morose and admirably fatalistic world view, Before Your Eyes is a tragic but true tale of broken childhood; a fine testament to the plight of a generation. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Making another break for the dramatic recognition he fell short of with the underwhelming Stranger than Fiction, Will Ferrell here finds a good deal more success, his portrayal of an alcoholic soon-to-be divorcé allowing him to bring forth the kind of brooding melancholy his comic success has thus far overshadowed. It’s a shame that the film itself—the first from writer/director Rush—is such an uninspired blending of typical indie tropes, offering in the course of this man’s impromptu soul search a whole host of characters who, conveniently, find themselves in similar life situations as he. Originality issues aside, though, the strength of Ferrell’s performance invites a good share of sympathy, and the young Wallace excels as a pitiable neighbourhood kid all but abandoned by an overworked mother. You’ve seen this before, sure, but did it ever have quite so much heart? RECOMMENDED.
A ludicrous blend of childish fantasy storytelling and very adult gore, this supernatural quasi-horror never manages to figure out who its target audience is, the hard R rating it bears excluding all those who might forgive it the sheer nonsensicality of its plot. Perhaps best exemplified by the fact that not one of the tremendously unconvincing actors manages to correctly pronounce the word necromancer, the braindead production spews hackneyed characters, moronic dialogue, and contrived situations without ever once remembering to include any sense of tension or fun. Shot full of laughable CGI that makes Death Note look like Toy Story, even the computer animators seem to have recognised the redundancy of the digital creatures, attempting to hide them with a ghastly and grating proclivity for motion blurring in any and all fight scenes. An oppressively bad viewing experience. UNWATCHABLE.
There’s a beautiful scene in Spike Jonze’s great Where the Wild Things Are where hot-tempered wild thing Carol reveals his secret miniaturised version of the world, a place where everything he knows can be controlled to play out just the way he wants it to. Mark Hogancamp, after he was brutally beaten by a gang of five men and forced to learn the most basic human motor and communication functions again at the age of thirty-nine, constructed the eponymous village as a place of mental refuge; a perfect version of the world he populated with alternate versions of all the people he knew. Jeff Malmberg’s documentary, supplemented by Hogancamp’s own striking photography, tells the story of this broken man and how he rebuilt his world. It’s that rarest of things: a tragic story with a happy ending; a tale of human cruelty overthrown by the power of imagination. Deeply moving. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Director: Ray Germano
No stranger to cinematic interpretation, the issue of Mexican workers immigrating to the United States has laid a foundation for some great works of fiction the like of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Examining the on-going problem through a factual lens, Roy Germano’s documentary is—at just 55 minutes—a brisk affair that nonetheless struggles to sustain itself throughout. The very human plight his camera captures in the tales of former migrants and the families they left behind are certainly affecting, but hearing similar stories punctuated only by the insistence of former mayoral candidates that the Mexican government is to blame eventually becomes rather tedious and trying. Still, it’s important that the terrible situations these people find themselves forced into not be forgotten; it may be an underwhelming documentary, but it’s an important story, and sometimes that in itself is enough. WORTH WATCHING.
Director: Alexandre Philippe
As much a dissertation on remix culture, the question of authorship, and the commercialisation of artistic vision as a film particular to the plight of Star Wars fans, this consistently amusing documentary carefully outlines what one talking head describes as “love-hating George Lucas”. Along the way showcasing the frankly overwhelming extent of the fan culture that surrounds the franchise, director Alexandre O. Philippe poses the question: does George Lucas have the right to constantly and incessantly change his films and their universe post-release? Shouldn’t the fans have at least some say in the future of the works they so adulate? Admirably giving voice to both sides of the argument, and taking in everything from the Holiday Special to the prequel trilogy and even Indiana Jones, it’s a highly entertaining cinematic debate that tackles a hugely interesting question. RECOMMENDED.
Kicking off with an amateur hunter’s chance encounter with a feral woman, Lucky McKee’s latest horror seems for a moment to be gearing toward good old-fashioned schlock, but quickly regresses into the realms of self-effacing pretence. With an indescribably ill-judged penchant for upbeat indie riffs playing out over rape scenes, The Woman offers a prime candidate for the worst soundtrack I have ever heard. Neither the performances nor the script offer anything of a greater calibre, and things rapidly descend into cinematically redundant and morally repugnant crap. Its defenders will insist that McKee has here constructed a powerful feminist parable, but while the concept itself bears an astute political sensibility, any seriousness whatsoever gets buried beneath layers of tasteless drivel and tactless gall. More concerned with attempting to shock than produce an incisive and meaningful viewing experience, this is no more than a festering mess of nasty nonsense. UNWATCHABLE.