This Week on Demand: 22/12/2013



Season’s greetings streamers, and apologies as ever for an—understandably, I dare hope—delayed instalment of your weekly Netflix fix. Almost entirely of this year are the films below, a fitting slate for those still struggling to catch as many 2013 releases as possible before deciding which ought to be deemed its best. And better news yet: near half of them, per this unworthy opinion, ought not to be overlooked. Get to it!


Blood (Read our full review)

As an advertisement for Conviction, the 2004 BBC miniseries of which it’s a remake, Nick Murphy’s Blood is a resounding success: the uncomfortably cramped nature of its storytelling betrays a wealth of material much too compressed to achieve the intended effect. No doubt it’s a great story though; buoyed by the kind of moral complexity on which the best TV police procedurals have thrived, the tale of detective brothers who attempt to cover an egregious miscarriage of justice promises to plumb psychological depths aplenty, yet loses itself more often in trying to cram where it ought to consolidate. The result is a slow-paced drama at breakneck speed, moody and meticulous but never very meaty. Credit’s due the high-calibre cast for doing what they can: Stephen Graham’s more restrained brother is brilliantly envisioned, while a scenery-nibbling Paul Bettany threatens almost to envelop an affectingly aloof Brian Cox as the pair’s father. SO-SO. ~RD


Cutie and the Boxer

Tears are all-but guaranteed by the time Cutie and the Boxer concludes, though whether of laughter or sadness is a matter each viewer will have to discover for themselves. Zachary Heinzerling’s film, opening imposingly on the sight of its latter eponym—an octogenarian Japanese artist—pounding a canvass with paint-soaked gloves, is a masterclass in documentary direction, melding serene visual fluidity with a narrative approach that opts to encourage inference above all. For as much as the gradual focus on this unique talent’s strained marriage to a fellow artist two decades his junior might lean toward the tragic in its presentation of one ego subsuming another, Noriko Shinohara’s story is an unfathomably complex look at love and art for the contradictorily chaotic phenomena they are. This is a movie as beautiful as its unassuming subject, every bit as staunch in its refusal to let life define it in anything but its own content, courageous terms. MUST SEE. ~RD


Devil’s Pass

Cashing in on the found footage fad only about a decade too late, erstwhile able action helmsman Renny Harlin returns to the snow-shrouded landscapes on which he made his name with Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger in Devil’s Pass (aka The Dyatlov Pass Incident), a half-baked horror that plays like a slightly less lo-fi twist on this year’s The Frankenstein Theory. Like that film, an inoffensive and utterly unmemorable trek through the snow in search of a mythological creature, Harlin’s movie opts for atmosphere above overt POV shocks, a nice break from the norm. Unlike it, though, Devil’s Pass has the benefit of a director armed with stuffed sleeves: it’s almost worth enduring the tedium that is the movie’s opening hour just to behold its bonkers final reel, in which Harlin lets all and sundry loose upon the audience with a recklessness that’s positively remarkable. But not quite remarkable enough; note the emphasis: almost worth enduring. SO-SO. ~RD


More Than Honey (Read our full review)

Vocal enthusiasts of Markus Imhoof’s astonishing nature documentary More Than Honey breathed a heavy sigh of relief to find the version adopted by Netflix—though still not the preferred German language original—was the UK dub by John Hurt; marketing materials previously presented a dry US dub that drained the magic from Imhoof’s omniscient whispers. Hurt’s as good a compromise as one could hope for: his immortal croak excels in imbuing the scenes of colony collapse disorder in action with a fatalistic bent that—together with the score’s evocative notes and Imhoof’s oft-staggering direction—lends cosmic grandeur to these tiny creatures. Switzerland’s submission for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar is one of the finest documentaries of the decade, an exceptional exemplar of the astonishing things that can come from something as commonplace as narrating nature. Like a quietly haunting sci-fi, this is quasi-realistic shock treatment, an essential effort we all ought to be made watch. MUST SEE. ~RD


Stranded (Read our full review)

Part of the appeal of Galaxy of Terror, schlockmeister Roger Corman’s rip-off of Alien so audacious it practically announced itself as such in its tagline, was in the way it met that mimicry with amplified exploitation, famously counting a vermicious alien rape among its see-and-raise efforts to trump Ridley Scott’s even-by-then-immortal classic. Three decades on, Battlefield Earth director Roger Christian just apes Alien entirely, adding little of the kind of titillating tack-on Corman knew a copy ought to have to distinguish itself. No, Stranded is by any standards a waste of time and money, though judging by the production standards not much of the latter. Feeble set design—ironic, given Christian’s role as art director on Alien—is among the many obvious indicators of a budget as low as the production’s storytelling standards; not even a typically game Christian Slater can really bring himself to pretend this is anything but a petty cash-grab. AVOID IT. ~RD


That’s What She Said

Would that the script were stronger in That’s What She Said, Carrie Preston’s fabulously game female-led comedy the delights in delving deep into a cesspool of comic crassness. More often than not it’s effective, though never much more than passably so; Kellie Overbey’s inaugural writing effort is affably audacious, if undermined by its inability to meet that wicked sensibility in dramatic terms. For as much as the movie might earn itself attention with the frankness of its sexuality—sexualities, in fact; its understated equivocation of all is to be commended—it’s not long lapsing back into familiar narrative territory as its central trio struggle with romance in the big city. At least their enjoyably played: Marcia DeBonis dominates with humour and heart, though she’s ably supported by a frantic Alia Shawkat and a likeably loathsome Anne Heche. Each gives it their all, which is sadly more than can be said for Overbey and Preston’s own efforts in turn. SO-SO. ~RD


The Deflowering of Eva van End (full review)

Frank sexuality of another sort entirely characterises Michiel ten Horn’s delightfully deadpan coming-of-age comedy The Deflowering of Eva van End, a movie immensely indebted to countryman Alex van Warmerdam’s uniquely twisted takes on family life. The arrival of a German exchange student is the catalyst to a series of slight but seismic shifts in the life of a bourgeois Dutch clan whose own problems inevitably see them ignore their soft-spoken—if ever spoken at all—youngest member. Strangely heartfelt, perhaps, given the cynical eye with which it tends to view humanity, ten Horn’s film is a very fine feature debut indeed, hinged on Vivian Dierickx’s wonderful performance. Plentiful comparisons to Wes Anderson, if a little superficial, at least attest the archness that’s at play here: this is a wry wit and no mistake, and often an immensely effective one for it. Here is a new director who’s earned the eyes now upon him. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


The Wall (Read our full review)

Accusations of excess abound in criticisms of The Wall’s voiceover narration, though few spring to saying just why such storytelling should be a problem. Julian Pölsler’s film is a complete cinematic achievement, no less so for its implementation of interior monologue expressed aloud: this is above all an intensely emotional evocation of existentialism; entrenching us in the mindset of the movie’s main character is essential to our understanding of her psyche, and by way of it our own. Specific as the scenario may be, this sci-fi premise of an invisible barrier freezing a middle-aged woman in a small section of the Austrian countryside is nought but a cunning conceit to examine up-close the reasons we go on in a world without explanation. Pölsler and his squadron of seven cinematographers use this jaw-dropping location across all seasons to show us, as only cinema can, the astonishing aestheticism of the world that might offer us one answer. What a movie, words and all. MUST SEE. ~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.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Can’t remember the last time Paul Bettany was in anything of significance. Keeping my eye out for Cutie and the Boxer and More Than Honey.

  • baronronan

    Yeah, I’m going to need you to at least watch Cutie before we do the top ten thing. It’s essential. Finished it in tears of equal laughter and sadness, was totally blown away by it. Want to fit it in again this week.