This Week on Demand: 24/11/2013



Editor’s Note: Reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle and Jaime Burchardt

It’s a strange sort of week on demand this time, tossing into the mix an unusually ripe selection of older options, especially given the recent efforts to bulk the 2013 releases. There’s plenty more of those this time, though, don’t you worry: Netflix remains one of the best places to catch up on the year in film. Few will claim any of the below choices as among the year’s very finest—save, perhaps, one—but that shouldn’t hold you back from digging in.


All She Can

Not all Texas high school redemption stories involve football. Then again, not all of them involve female weight-lifting. All She Can already takes a step in the right direction with that differential. Corina Calderon gives an exceptional debut performance as Luz, a not-so-typical Hispanic teenager with not-so-typical dreams. In between working at a fast food place and managing the heavy drama of her broken family, she longs to be able to compete in weight lighting. The onslaught of negativity can’t help but cloud her life, but she can’t and won’t give up. It’s got the usual bag of clichés that come along with a formula like this, but part of the appeal is that writer/director Amy Wendel approaches this bag like it’s brand-spanking-new. The end result is solid, as the ensemble cast and direction charge ahead the norm and give us some warm quality, indie-style. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Breaking the Girls (Read our full review)

Fatally Attracted Strangers on a Train is the movie Breaking the Girls tries desperately to be, a high aim indeed that’s all the more foolish for its failure to realise that those are two distinctly different sources. A generous viewer might say the film borrows Hitchcock’s murder-trade premise; the truth is it’s thieved, and not even gracefully so. Mostly reprising her Californication role in all its conniving glory, Madeline Zima is interesting enough here to excuse—or at least to overcome, temporarily—the essential lack of character from which the film suffers, in every sense of the word. Director Jamie Babit, managing a fine frame every now and then, shows ample talent for constructing a twisty erotic thriller. Would that she had the script to do so; Mark Distefano and Guinevere Turner haven’t the slightest handle on their lesbian love story, leaving Zima and Agnes Bruckner acting vaguely wicked for no good reason at all. AVOID IT. ~RD


Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012

Earning a surprise nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards, Gaby Hoffman is certainly unforgettable as the title character of Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012, a strange infusion of the South American road movie and American coming-of-age comedy, primarily represented by the film’s other north-of-the-border star Michael Cera. He’s interesting here; like a slightly more grounded version of his This Is the End character, his Jamie is a deliberate step away from his established screen persona, an impetuous asshole to the genial guy he normally plays. Would that the movie were as interesting as a whole: reputedly conceived as Cera and director Sebastian Silva worked on Magic Magic, its ad lib origins are evident in often undesirable ways, not least of all its patchy dialogue and a story that plays like exactly the afterthought it is. Still, Cera and Hoffman work wonders together, especially when framed as finely as in Silva’s sun-kissed shots. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


I Am Love (Read our full review)

Putting her uncanny ability to project an ethereal otherness to perfect use, Tilda Swinton excels as ever in I Am Love, starring as the Russian matriarch of an Italian textile family whose long-silent suppression under familial tradition finally comes to an end in the course of the film. It’s a performance of remarkable restraint, framed by aesthetic excess: working with a certain degree of melodramatic flair, director Luca Guadagnino uses this woman’s evolution as emblematic of the poisonous influence of the established order. The result is as liberating for us as an audience as it is for her as a character, and the extraordinary empathy this story breeds is nothing shy of exhilarating. That it can exact such universal emotion in spite of the specificity of its social setting is indicative of the movie’s existence above and beyond class boundaries: this is, first and foremost, a brilliantly delivered story of human desire. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


In the House

It’s not just the exasperated intellectualism of his protagonist that earns Francois Ozon’s latest comparisons to Woody Allen: In the House offers a plot that would sit snugly within the American’s oeuvre, seeing a high school French teacher increasingly absorbed in a talented pupil’s voyeuristic prose. Ethical issues abound, not least of all for us: Ozon’s great coup, and the finest evidence here of his formidable talents, is making us every bit as complicit. His film is deliciously smart, melding fact and fiction with a finesse that would be aggravating if it weren’t so damn fun; like the young storyteller, the director never deigns to tell us what’s really real, leaving us lusting after more even while wondering if it’s wrong for us to do so. Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas wonderfully witty chemistry makes it all the more fun: such a good time is In the House that it’s easy to miss its extraordinary intelligence. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Killing Season (Read our full review)

John Travolta. Robert De Niro. In the woods. Being directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, Daredevil). In the woods. Oh, and Travolta is sporting a worse accent than De Niro had in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. It all sounds like a misconstrued recipe for either of two things: something so god-awful that you’ll want to hide under the covers for days or something so ridiculous and inane that you can’t help but smile and enjoy the cheese-filled ride. Fortunately, Killing Season falls under the latter category. Both men play veterans of the Bosnian War, and they were on separate sides. Through a series of circumstances, they find themselves getting along pretty well, enjoying some time in nature, until it becomes clear that one’s the hunter, and the other the hunted, in a sort of weird turnabout of the tables. As far as camp goes, you could do worse. Plus they actually FIGHT. Ha. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Ong Bak 2

Ong Bak 2 is here! The highly anticipated follow-up to an explosively entertaining action ride is here and… it’s a prequel? Ah, ok, well anyways onward! Things will start to make sen… wait, what?” That was pretty much the reaction back in 2008. The controversy behind-the-scenes shows in this second outing: Tony Jaa comes back as a different character and in a different time, which would be acceptable if it weren’t that extremely flimsy connection. Despite the way it looks—the gorgeousness of it will pop on your HDTV—honestly it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Decent action co-exists with below-average story-telling, and the way it ends might infuriate you. But something has to be said for the final action sequence. The first word would be “wow”, and that’s it: you’ll be speechless after that. It’s so wonderfully choreographed and directed you’ll probably—scratch that, most definitely—forget the previous hour. SO-SO. ~JB


Russian Ark (Read our full review)

Perhaps it’s cheating to say Russian Ark boasts both the best opening and closing shots in cinema history; Alexsandr Sokurov’s opus, boasting nary a single cut across its ninety-six minutes isn’t the first single-shot film, but it’s certainly the most impressive. Fully exploiting the expansive area of the St Petersburg Hermitage Museum, in which its unseen narrator-protagonist awakens to proceed through a strange living tour of Russian history enacted by hundreds upon hundreds of extras, this is a miraculous movie, an astonishing feat of cinematic staging that’s somehow just as impressive in narrative terms as it is technically. Standing still as one of the strongest arguments in digital cinema’s favour, Russian Ark’s uncut majesty attests the medium’s ability to at last realise the capacity for realism that’s defined it as an art. To do so with such phenomenal fantasy is as bold a move as it is brilliant; here is one of the finest films ever made. MUST SEE. ~RD


Scenic Route (Read our full review)

There’s a neat little movie waiting to be teased forth from the premise that births Scenic Route, whereby estranged pals Mitchell and Carter attempt to mend their fading friendship in the course of a drive through the desert. This, alas, ain’t it: Kyle Killen’s script is a hapless, hammy mess that fails to exploit the intrigue of its idea by never constructing its characters in any considerable depth. However much effective tension Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler might mine from the relationship, then, is wasted: this is a movie so thinly-sketched it feels utterly devoid of consequence. Co-directors Kevin and Michael Goetz have little to offer to help matters; theirs is a flat aesthetic that largely wastes the wonderful scenery around, and scarcely serves even to make apparent the exasperating environmental conditions when the pair breaks down. The ensuing ninety minutes is as unenjoyable for us as its intended to be for the characters. AVOID IT. ~RD


World’s Greatest Dad

It’s been a quiet few years for Robin Williams, bit parts in family friendly films notwithstanding; it’s an understandable assumption that the comic actor’s largely left the scene, though not entirely a correct one. He’s by far the best thing in World’s Greatest Dad, a film as audacious as director Bobcat Goldthwaite’s equally-ironically-titled effort from last year God Bless America. Here, teen suicide is the central gag, as Williams’ failed-writer father masks the accidental death of his nightmarish teen son as the last act of a hopeless poetic soul. Riddled with issues though the movie may be, never more so than in a deeply troubled final act, Williams gives it his all, resulting in a film that’s largely carried by his commitment alone. Though to say that is to undersell the enormity of the better gags Goldthwaite lands; uneven as it is World’s Greatest Dad is a movie of uncanny allure. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


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.