One of the great things about the vast melange of cinema that each new week brings to video on demand is the terrific diversity we see exhibited between titles. From classic dramas to modern comedies, explosive action movies to cerebral thrillers, new library additions to streaming services always bring with them a huge range of attitudes and sensibilities, tastes and preferences. Alas, there’s a negative side to that too, and this week we see it exhibited in all its ignominy. Another big week for LGBT releases, which seem to have been high priority of late, this edition of This Week On Demand also harbours a sickeningly small-minded film that, whether intentionally or incidentally, tips the scales right the other way again. Easily the most offensively tasteless film this series has yet encountered, it’s fortunately one of few bad things this week has to offer, the majority of the crop as interesting and entertaining as you could possibly desire.
A surprising, compassionate, and remarkably tender tale of beauty in a world of ugliness and intolerance, Boy could well be considered the Filipino equivalent to Weekend—or rather vice-versa, it predates that film. Where Weekend is very pronouncedly a love story rather than a gay love story, though, Boy director Auraeus Solito very deliberately situates his narrative in homosexual terms, seeking much like his characters to validate gay love as the completely normal aspect of life that it is. Tracing the burgeoning relationship between a shy, closeted teenager and the prostitute he hires on New Year’s Eve, it’s a heartfelt story of sexual self-acceptance enshrouded in a pertinent socio-political context, a moving take on identity and individuality universal far beyond its outward appearances. Heart-breaking work from Madeleine Nicolas as the former boy’s mother is wisely tapped by Solito, helping him craft not a good gay interest film, but a universally great and cinematically wowing romantic movie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
A highly regarded classic for good reason, Howard Hawks’ razor-sharp comic drama carefully denies condemnation of contemporary journalism in an opening title card, yet viciously exposes the cutting inhumanity of the trade throughout. Just as smart, funny, and fast-paced as the reputation that far precedes it attests, His Girl Friday matches its comedic excellence in the surprising potential for human drama it concocts, incorporating genuinely pitiable characters who manage to stand aside from the laughs to exist as engaging humans dishearteningly laid waste to by the hideous whims of exploitative media. Cary Grant is on top form as ruthless editor Walter Burns, whose constant schemes to win back ex-wife and former employee Hildy Johnson—a dazzling Rosalind Russell—expose ever more clearly the awfulness of his character. Charismatic regardless, Grant makes Burns an unlikely charmer, despicable though his methods are. A perfectly acted, ingeniously scripted delight, it fully earns its regular place atop greatest comedy film lists. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The sophomore effort from British director extraordinaire Lynne Ramsey—and indeed the last she would make for nine years before We Need to Talk About Kevin reached screens last year—Morvern Callar is a strangely semi-surreal experience more dependent on atmospheric intensity and saturated palettes than it is on character or dialogue. Interesting given its adaptation from the page, it’s another showcase of Ramsey’s magnificent visual talents, the way she weaves disjoint imagery together crafting a portrait of her titular protagonist’s frazzled mind that beautifully employs the ontology of cinema to reinvent this story anew. Following Morvern in the wake of her boyfriend’s suicide as she passes his unpublished novel off as her own, it’s an odd film that takes in themes of loss and friendship as she and her best friend take an impromptu holiday around Ibiza. With stellar work from Samantha Morton in the lead role, Morvern Callar is a stirring existential journey. RECOMMENDED.
A lesbian love drama that teeters on the brink of pure exploitation, My Normal likes to think of itself as a good deal more incisive than it really is. Looking at the first steps in the relationship between a dominatrix and her initial one night stand, it’s so irretrievably poorly acted that none of the potential the script harbours manages to make it out unharmed. That potential is even limited to start with, though, dealing with the kind of contrived portrait of the movie business all too many amateur films feature. Sex-hungry executives and easily written scripts abound, not to mention directors who see a PA who can tie a good knot as someone with real cinematic potential. With nary a line of convincing dialogue delivered in the thankfully brief running time, My Normal offers little other than voyeuristic thrills for a heterosexual audience it appears not entirely fond of. Depending on a demographic it simultaneously despises, it’s a middling mess. AVOID IT.
A drifter playboy with little apparent aims to speak of in the world, Will hardly makes for the most charismatic or sympathetic of protagonists, yet under the auspices of David Call and director Gregory Kohn he manages to become the kind of character you find yourself gradually drawn to. Northeast is a slow piece that moves at much the same pace as its lead, slowly coasting through life on whatever current happens to carry him. Struck by the happiness of his friends who have settled down, he wonders if perhaps he hadn’t better do the same before it’s too late. Running just over an hour, it’s maybe too short to ever really get anywhere, but it’s more the journey than the destination that counts here. Though not a film to drastically change perspectives or even linger on the mind for long after the credits, there’s enough charm in the mumblecore-reminiscent dialogue to make it a pleasurable watch while it lasts. WORTH WATCHING.
A mega macho entry in Sly’s action-packed ‘80s, Over the Top oozes testosterone with Stallone—who penned the script—playing a muscular truck driver by day, arm wrestler by night. The cursory sensitive side comes courtesy of the son whom he has thus far failed as a father. With the two thrust together in the wake of the young kid’s mother’s death, the story at least facilitates the casting of Robert Loggia as the super-rich and nasty father-in-law who believes custody of the child should be his. The troubled father-son bond would again reappear three years down the line in Rocky V; alas the potential real-life parallels that might be there drawn are infinitely more interesting than anything in Over the Top. Poorly scripted, shoddily put together, and smothered in an unhealthy mixture of sentimentality and cheese, it’s all you’d expect from Stallone in the ‘80s: an exaggeratedly bravado action outing with very little going on in the head. AVOID IT.
A worthless piece of misogynistic, homophobic dreck, Phillip the Fossil earns its place as worst film of the week—and one of the poorest I’ve ever had the misfortune to endure—even before the opening credits have stopped rolling. Focusing on a despicable character does not a bad film make (refer again to His Girl Friday), but the way this meritless nonsense adulates a facile manchild so intellectually and behaviourally underdeveloped as the titular Phillip is astoundingly shameless. He is a foul-mouthed louse whose every second word rhymes with duck and whose ideal concept of fun is bedding an underage girl between bouts of being utterly hideous to her. Not satisfied with sanctifying this wretched exemplar of all that’s wrong with humankind—at one point he’s compared to the title character of Hud, an offence to make one seethe with anger—writer/director Garth Donovan manages to weave in a serious subplot so hammily mishandled that it trivialises a pertinent social issue. UNWATCHABLE.
A gay issue movie with a capital I, Role/Play concerns itself so much with making a point about marriage rights that it forgets to function as an enjoyable film at the same time. Looking at the budding romance between a gay rights campaigner and a closeted soap opera actor recently outed by a leaked sex tape, it struggles to overcome the stifling dullness of both performers’ lacking line delivery and a script that leaves a lot to be desired. Even its tackling of the central issue of marriage is clumsily managed, amounting in the end to little more than a limp statement in favour of equality. With little in the way of politicised backbone and even less to contribute in narratively entertaining terms, Role/Play becomes just a sub-standard romance that takes very odd care to avoid complete nudity yet suddenly opts for a full-frontal shot of an insignificant character. A baffling choice, much like the decision to ever produce the film in the first place. AVOID IT.
There’s something about the French that just about lets them get away with the kind of accentuated quirkiness any other nation would be regarded with spiteful malice for exhibiting. Romantics Anonymous is an unashamedly kooky romance, sharing the story of chocolatiers who fall for each other but must overcome their mutual shyness and sensitivity before the relationship can really work. The directions the film takes are as safe and sure as possible, but it’s the genuine likeability of the main characters as portrayed by Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carré that makes the events that unfold such a delight to bear witness to. They fit together immensely well, each complementing the other’s discomfort with their own and turning what might have been a silly relationship into something sweet and warm. Not all of the humour hits the mark, and overall it’s a very light outing, but it’s nice to be taken in by something quite so devoid of cynicism. WORTH WATCHING.
Playing something like a low-rent version of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, only American and not even a quarter as funny, Surrogate Valentine pairs indie musician Goh with imbecilic actor Danny, who joins in on a road trip as research for a character he’s set to play. The repartee of the two relies too heavily on the assumption that Danny is the biggest moron on the planet, but his lax characterisation aside there is a good deal in the script to support an enjoyable hour and a bit of conversational comedy. The monochrome aesthetic adds a welcome dash of visual vim, making for a pleasing aesthetic even when the narrative briefly trails off and loses its way. It’s a shame that the characters couldn’t be developed with a greater degree of detail; with some very effective laughs at work it might well have touched upon greatness with the aid of people to whom we could really relate. WORTH WATCHING.
Taking its roots in the real-life Thai practice of spending a night in a coffin to rid oneself of bad karma, The Coffin stipulates a supernatural vengeance when it emerges the mass ritual is being carried out in used caskets and the spirits of the unfairly ejected are haunting their former homes’ new occupants. A strange idea that at least boasts some potential, it’s relatively rapidly squandered on a screenplay that struggles to make any sense at all, confused as to whether it should be horror, thriller, romance, or drama. The end result is a dissatisfying hodge-podge of all four with a heavy focus on the romantic, a man and woman who unite to rid themselves of their spiritual tormentors slowly falling for each other as they do so. A weird work that’s at least quite decently made, The Coffin is something of a pretty mess, a movie more frustratingly eccentric in tone than it is particularly inept in any technical terms. AVOID IT.
Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean sensibilities bring an interesting touch to the penultimate lead-in to The Avengers, casting Anthony Hopkins as Odin himself and playing out a complex familial drama in the godly realm of Asgard. The otherworldly antics, silly fun though they are, can’t support the sagging dullness of the later earthbound scenes, almost every moment spent in our home world average in every sense of the word. With maybe the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most forgettable final battle, Natalie Portman’s spectacularly misused love interest, and a lead who struggles to carry the film by himself, Thor is a superhero movie with little to offer when held in contrast to its studio’s more successful outings. Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hiddleston help to elevate proceedings a good deal, as does the typical kind of special effects wizardry we’ve come to expect of the genre. Not a film that could be fairly classified as bad, nor is Thor exactly anything worth getting excited about. SO-SO.
A surprisingly fluid film that transitions from one genre to the next with sly subtlety, What You Don’t See starts off a slow family drama centred on bereaved teen Anton—a restrained and resigned Ludwig Trepte—whose father’s recent suicide has left him a mournful mess. Diverging off along the lines of psychological thriller and mystery story along the way, first time writer/director Wolfgang Fischer makes a very effective debut that combines intimate character study with incidental intrigue to quietly pull us in to the troubled world of his young hero. Again making a case for his name to be considered alongside that of the best working cinematographers, Martin Gschlacht (he shot Revanche and Breathing) exploits the natural beauty of the Brittany locales at every opportunity. Similarly adept at crafting darkened interior expressivity, he brings to the film a visual maturity that not only pleases the eye, but reinforces the key themes at work within the story too. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.