This Week on Demand: 05/01/2014



Editor’s Note: reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle, Daniel Tucker, and Jaime Burchardt

What better way to start another year on demand than with a bumper edition column that not only gives you more choice than we wager you’ll know what to do with, but also sees this series reach the frankly frightening milestone of one thousand movies covered. That’s—at a conservative estimate—sixty-three days worth of Netflix we’ve watched to bring you these recommendation. And boy are we glad to do it. Here’s to what we hope will be a heck of a 2014 on demand. Here’s to another sixty-three days.


3 Women

Like a Hollywood variation on an art house institution, 3 Women plays out as a distinct Tinseltown slant on Bergman’s Persona, not a bad thing given the period of Hollywood we’re talking. Robert Altman’s film, released in 1977, may up the ante from its most obvious inspiration, but in doing to it loses little of the ethereal allure. That’s mostly the work of Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek, who work wonders as a health spa attendant and her young trainee. Altman claimed inspiration for the film in a series of dreams, an unsurprising source when one beholds the increasingly oneiric quality of his visuals. Fixating throughout in its study of gender and identity, 3 Women in its final third ascends to a new plane entirely, elevating its oddity and attaining an uncanny quality between fantasy and reality, between the idyllic iconography of Americana and the actual experience of America. By gum, what a movie. MUST SEE. ~RD


All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Review)

Released last year after some seven years of constantly-changing hands, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane made the rounds of horror distributors for the simple reason that genre aficionado Bob Weinstein found it not half the appealing gift his brother Harvey had thought it might make. And it’s easy to see why: Jonathan Levine’s feature debut—its difficulties may have helped more than hindered his career—is little more than another slice of self-satisfied schlock, a knowing effort whose self-awareness never extends far beyond acknowledging clichés and then proceeding to perpetuate them anyway. It’s a cynical sort of movie, pointing to the tired tropes of its genre before reluctantly admitting it’s got nothing new of its own to add. Still, that the majority of the cast and the crew has continued to better things isn’t unsurprising; from Levine’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre-inspired shooting to Amber Heard’s final girl, there’s no shortage of talent here being wasted. AVOID IT. ~RD



Amélie is the kind of romantic comedy all romantic comedies should strive to be, and that’s not in reference to its style. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has proudly displayed his imagination before—in Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children—but never with this kind of loving material before. Our title character, played wonderfully by Audrey Tautou, isn’t your typical girl looking for romance. Her daydreams and sense of idealization takes her life in wild directions, and sometimes the results she expects aren’t what come forth. She may have met the man of her dreams, but what to do now? While it might seem Jeunet holds back his vision at first, you’ll realize that he’s stretched it out, making it a support for the truly brilliant screenplay he and Guillaume Laurant wrote together. It’s smart, sweet and tender toward its approach of the optimistic side of love. A movie that’s truly one-of-a-kind.MUST SEE. ~JB


American Psycho

He’s been acting for pretty much most of his life, but the ongoing epic what-the-holy *beep* saga we know as Christian Bale didn’t really begin until 2000 with the release of American Psycho. Mary Harron (The Notorious Bettie Page) adapts the infamous novel from Bret Easton Ellis, and her approach to it has been dissected for years. The source material is loud and even leans on the side of obnoxious. Many have criticized Harron for downplaying the craziness, but her direction should be considered appropriate. The whole feel of it screams as a display for the raw talent that Bale possesses, and to say that he broke out with his performance is one of the biggest understatements one can make. He’s a revelation here. His performance is filled with such demanding bravado that you honestly won’t remember most of the movie. Just him, and a scene towards the end with a phone call. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


As I Lay Dying

Say what you will about James Franco’s less mainstream endeavors, but you can’t deny it takes guts to adapt William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Lauded as one of the great American novels, it’s narrated by fifteen characters—a good portion of which is delivered through internal monologue—over fifty-nine chapters—not really a work that lends itself easily to the medium. Employing the likes of Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O’Reilly, Logan Marshall-Green, Danny McBride (seriously) and more, James Franco has crafted a worthy adaptation of an American classic. His integration of split-screen to portray different perspectives is an effective, engaging way to tell the story and an inspired directorial choice. If you’re expecting this to be a Spark Notes version of the film, you will be severely disappointed. As I Lay Dying is a film for those familiar with the source material and will all but alienate and frustrate everyone else. RECOMMENDED. ~DT


Big Trouble in Little China

Demons, sorcerers, magic, and truck drivers. Almost nothing is out of bounds with Big Trouble in Little China, still considered a favorite amongst John Carpenter’s long filmography. Jack Burton (the engrossing Kurt Russell) makes a pit-stop in Chinatown during his drive to hang out with Wang, one of his old friends. He tags along to pick up Wang’s wife at the airport, but she’s suddenly kidnapped by a dark organization. The more he helps, the more he realizes that he’s caught right in the middle of battle of good vs. evil. The evil Lo Pan (James Hong, folks!) also kidnaps Jack’s eye candy Gracie (Kim Cattral) and things get real… real fast. I’d like to think Carpenter took the script, smiled widely from ear to ear and just let it all hang out. Parts that divide from scary to hilarious to action-packed lead to the most fun you’ll probably ever have watching a Carpenter flick. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Bull Durham

Kevin Costner seems to be an actor born to play the everyman and when we watch him in Bull Durham we can’t help but expect a variation of his character from Field of Dreams or even No Way Out. Much to our pleasant surprise, Bull Durham allows Costner to show off his depth as an actor. Here, he plays a minor league catcher who should be playing in the majors. There’s a deep pain to his character and it reveals itself through his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport. He’s a master of his craft, but he hasn’t been given the proper recognition. Costner is the catcher to Tim Robbins’s airheaded pitcher. The two play wonderfully off each other and we can’t help but watch with glee as the two fight for the affections of Susan Sarandon. Yes, Bull Durham is a baseball movie, but it is also a film that celebrates life and all the crazy stuff that comes with it. RECOMMENDED. ~DT


Death Race 2000

The conceit of children made Battle Royale the much clearer comparison point upon The Hunger Games’ release in 2012, but it’s plain to see its foremost forebear is Death Race 2000, the Roger Corman-produced dystopian sci-fi with a distinctly exploitative slant. And what exploitation it is, decapitations and debauchery aplenty as an annual race through the streets of America with points scored by slaughtering pedestrians plays out. Say what you will of his reputation for schlock: Corman is a man who knew how to get a movie made, and infamous as the obviously painted backdrops here might be, this is a movie that does what it says on the tin. What it does in addition is offer an effective, if obvious, satirical streak, hilariously lampooning the ludicrousness of the media circus and our attraction to all sorts of unseemly violence, even as it provides it. A funnier-than-in-Oscar Sylvester Stallone seals the deal. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Drinking Buddies (Read our full review)

On the surface, from the plot to the runtime, Drinking Buddies seems like a soft and simple dive into the unfortunately murky waters of the romantic dramedy genre. Thankfully, it’s anything but: Kate and Luke (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) both work at a brewery, and it’s ideal for them. They love to drink, and there might actually be something between the two. The unfortunate thing is they’re both in relationships (Ron Livingtson and Anna Kendrick play their partners). They decide to be grown-ups about it, and the four of them start to hang out and drink beer. Nothing bad can come from that… right? Joe Swanberg has been directing for a while now, but this is truly his breakout film. Through his heart-felt efforts, he brings us a fine-crafted script, tight and precise direction, and best of all, fantastic performances from his cast, including Wilde who is a marvel here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Grand Theft Auto

It’s worth considering Grand Theft Auto, which followed Death Race 2000 by only two years, as a spiritual prequel of sorts to that film, especially given their mutual use of DJ Don Steele as a larger-than-life media personality. Here he’s a radio reporter following a cross-country bounty-hunt from his helicopter vantage point; the series of vehicles that pursue the Vegas-bound lovers on whose head the bounty sits aren’t all that indistinct from those that came in Death Race 2000. Ron Howard directs, trading his then-child star pull in the Corman-produced Eat My Dust! for the chance to cut his teeth in the director’s seat. He’s in the passenger seat too, as the groom-to-be looking around with self-aware surprise at how utterly inane this entire show is. And that’s what makes it so fun: like a live-action answer to Wacky Races, Grand Theft Auto is comical nonsense of the highest calibre. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


Jack Reacher (Read our full review)

It’s indicative of the extent of Jack Reacher’s impersonality that it manages to waste the astonishing opportunity of having Werner Herzog play an action movie villain. Just think of all the things that might have been done with that chance in the hands of a better director than Christopher McQuarrie, whose script’s equivalent blandness makes it hard to understand how it could possibly have come from the same hand that scripted The Usual Suspects. There’s a car chase here that must stand among the most uninteresting ever seen on screen, an action sequence so feebly handled it makes one wonder if The French Connection mightn’t have just been improbable fantasy. The blandness extends to the leads too, with Tom Cruise delivering his lines with a conviction that will make you believe he really is a well-paid actor. Rosamund Pike is made to play a helpless woman. Synopses have tended to label her a love interest. AVOID IT. ~RD


Nostalghia (Read our full review)

Fitting, to follow Jack Reacher, that we should have a film that can scarcely contain its personality, there is so much. Here is a movie with the flavour of the filmmaker’s tears, so earnest and open in divulging its makers distress that we can practically feel the sombre sobs in its every effulgent frame. It was made in exile by Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Russian director whose difficulties in dealing with Soviet authorities had hampered him in making his masterpiece Andrei Rublev. That was a film that beautifully conveyed the compulsion to create and the agony of artistry; Nostalghia explores in much the same way the burden of nationality, of living and loving a culture however much it may hurt. And it is about so much more besides, as is any true great work of art: opaque and oblique, this is a challenging film, but a one so striking that it rewards even if, at first, it does not reveal. MUST SEE. ~RD


Raging Bull

What an outrageous film Martin Scorsese has made, that dares to suggest a man as abusive and unattractive as Jake LaMotta is a hero. A boxer, he is here as brutal to his family and friends outside the ring as he is to his opponents inside. Yet Scorsese, shooting so strikingly in black and white, his images given the weight of the world in the editing room by the ineffable—and here Oscar-winning—Thelma Schoonmaker, makes LaMotta his protagonist and endorses such dreadful humanity. It is believably and brilliantly given life by Robert De Niro, here at the peak of his career, but it is not—even for the excellence of his work—excusable. This man is not the hero Martin Scorsese makes him to be, in showing the richness of his life and the pleasures his immoral actions bring him. “I’m the boss,” he repeats as the film closes. Martin Scorsese has made him seem it. He’s done it again with his new movie, I hear. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

There are few films that have ever been made with the same quality of unbridled energy as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Roger Corman’s ‘70s answer to his earlier counter-cultural classics like The Trip. Strangely surreal in its steadfast rejection of basic physical laws, it’s a movie that sets itself amidst the rock-loving kids of its era and fantasises of the kind of responses that cautionary parents and school authorities deserve. It is a movie alive with the spirit of youth, that understands how it means to feel young and free and aloft with the joys of music and love. It is a movie that aims only to capture that joy on camera, and capture it does. What seems like the work of a deranged lunatic in this script—credited, among others, to Joe Dante—is instead the output of those who know what it is to have careless fun. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is as much as you can have. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Some Like It Hot (Read our full review)

“Well, nobody’s perfect.” Except, perhaps, Billy Wilder, who worked with equal excellence in a nihilistic noir like Sunset Blvd. and as campy comic a romp as Some Like It Hot. This might well be the high water mark of American comedy movies, a film so unreservedly funny it’s almost easy to miss the impressive strides it makes in its treatment of gender and sexuality. For as much as it might be handled with utter irreverence, the manner in which this cross-dressing caper treads all over the established order of things is truly ground-breaking, laying the foundations for Wilder’s follow-up The Apartment to swoop in and shake Hollywood’s shoulders. But this is by far the funnier film—and the one that more intent on aiming for funniness—a dizzyingly witty script given as much life as imaginable by a trio of terrific performances. It’s not for the dress and wig he dons herein that Jack Lemmon becomes so attractive… MUST SEE. ~RD



Mel Brooks’ best parodies were a decade behind him by the time of Spaceballs, and tellingly so too was his target, the blockbuster behemoth that was Star Wars. Yet it’s not so much its untimeliness that makes this a comparably flabby effort—Young Frankenstein, after all, harkened back some four decades—but rather that it’s just never as witty as those earlier films, opting more often for easy humour that just doesn’t carry the same silly charm. Still, there are laughs to be had here however comparatively weak: even Brooks on a bad day beats many on their best, and a cast comprising talent like John Candy and Rick Moranis is on-hand to help. And even if Spaceballs’ parodical power may be immensely inferior to the likes of Blazing Saddles and even High Anxiety, laughs needn’t be at another movie’s expense to make their impact. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Gene Roddenberry’s game-changing TV show had been off the air ten years, but with the popularity of Star Wars and Superman at the box office, Paramount really wanted to cash in on the new sci-fi craze. The result was an excruciatingly boring and overlong slog of a film that felt more like a 2001: A Space Odyssey rip-off than anything remotely resembling a Star Trek movie. Can’t see a Star Trek movie being boring? There’s a ten-minute dialogue-free scene consisting of nothing but Kirk and Scotty docking onto the Enterprise. Thankfully the movie did enough box office business to allow The Wrath of Kahn—arguably not only the best Star Trek movie ever made but easily one of the best sci-fi films ever made—to be green-lit. New to the Star Trek movies? Skip this one and watch Kahn, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home (all also on Netflix), easily one of the best trilogies ever conceived. AVOID IT. ~DT


Stitches (Read our full review)

It’s always interesting to trace the manner in which horror-comedy evolves according to the changing trends of the genre it satirises. It’s no surprise, at a time when horrors like last year’s Evil Dead are given to creeping us out with bloodshed above all, that their comic equivalents should trade in gore of absurd proportions. So it is with Stitches, which takes a pretty standard murdered clown’s revenge story and stuffs it with entrails until it reaches bursting point. It’s a film that nicely evidences just how unsatisfying our current horror fad is: like Evil Dead, a tedious film whose efforts to terrify seem to misunderstand what fear is, Stitches misdirects its attention and emerges, at best, watchable nonsense. Would that its script made better use of Ross Noble, the comedian whose surreal streak might have made this more than mildly silly fun. SO-SO. ~RD


The Amityville Horror

Goodness knows just what kind of movie The Amityville Horror set out to be; it’s easy to see why the one it became was such a box office smash, though, cobbled as so many of its aspects are from The Exorcist and The Omen. Ostensibly your run-of-the-mill haunted house horror, it turns toward elements both spiritual and paedophobic at various points for no apparent reason other than to capitalise on their contemporary popularity from the aforementioned films. The result is a film that feels as if it’s trying to be three, in the process of attempting to keep all horror fans happy managing instead to sate none at all. Still, Stuart Rosenberg’s a talented director who manages a fine shot and even a frightening moment here and there, and a particularly wild-looking James Brolin does well as the put-upon father unsure whether his own mind is what he ought really to fear. They do what they can. SO-SO. ~RD


The Apartment

Having pushed the boat out with The Seven Year Itch, Billy Wilder rocked it in The Apartment, trading that film’s comparatively coy approach to the idea of institutionalised adultery with a movie that doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to critiquing the infidelity inherent in the American male mindset—and indeed that of capitalism, brilliantly visualised by the Tati-esque production design of an Oscar-winning Alexandre Trauner. Acclaimed as it often is as one of the great comedy classics to come out of Hollywood, this is a film that’s dark and deliberate in tone, finding much to laugh at in its central conceit—sure—but surrounding it with characters who attest the consequences of callousness and the value of real romance. They, so perfectly played by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, have such wonderful sadness alongside their wit. What a wonderful film this is, to be able to find humour in a world so dark. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


The Day the Earth Stood Still

Six decades of subsequent civilisation hasn’t done much to lessen the need for the post-war pacifist plea that is The Day the Earth Stood Still, a classic sci-fi that wears its message on its sleeve precisely because it feels it has to for us to get the damn point already. Robert Wise’s film is a beautifully shot work, and one aided by special effects that still seem impressive, bringing to life the otherworldly robot Gort and his disintegration ray. He’s rather an imposing presence to behold—a frightening counterpoint to Forbidden Planet’s Robby for sure—threatening to render humanity extinct if we can’t all agree to get along. Michael Rennie is more friendly as the humanoid Klaatu, who surveys our broken planet with the look of a parent who expected much better. This is a terrific old-timey genre gem, a film that feels entirely of its time and yet—to our shame—still relevant to ours. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


The Grapes of Wrath

None of John Ford’s four Oscars were for westerns, the genre in which he spent half his career and for which we tend to nonetheless remember him; it’s funny that one came from this prototypical road movie, which did much to launch another all-American genre we tend to forget he equally fathered. The American dream hasn’t often seemed as nightmarish as here, rendered in jet-black shadows by Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland as the family of farmers led by Henry Fonda journeys across the United States in search of a way—any way—to survive and stay together. Marshalling an almighty supporting cast to tell their tale, Ford creates a classic that’s angry and exhausting in equal measure, rooting the misfortune of the American populace in the fortune of the upper class. Fonda’s acerbic attitude as the paroled son is reflective of the mindset of a people too long trodden on. The movie’s success is in making us as bitter as he. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


The Iron Lady (Read our full review)

The director of Mamma Mia. One of the screenwriters of Shame. Meryl Streep. A significant amount of running time dedicated to the senility of a political figure. The Iron Lady is easily one of the oddest biographies ever made. Streep is a magnificent actress with a bottomless fountain of talent, and she delivers another fine performance. However, it’s a performance trapped in a film that barely comes close to matching it in quality. For a movie about such a controversial and influential political figure, The Iron Lady treats its protagonist frustratingly safely. By the time the movie ends, we haven’t learned anything about Margaret Thatcher. Rather, we’re frustrated by the movie’s lack of direction and voice. We’re puzzled over its insistence on continuing to show us the Iron Lady herself in her old age, only to breeze by important moments in her career. But that’s assuming we’re awake by the time the film finally comes to a close. AVOID IT. ~DT


Thelma & Louise

“An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a ’66 Thunderbird.” This sentence barely does Thelma & Lousie justice. Ridley Scott is a director perhaps best known for his grand sci-fi tales or his epic tales of vengeance, but he is a director that is perhaps at his best when dealing with gritty character dramas. Working from Callie Khouri’s Oscar-winning script, Scott crafted a film rich with character, packed to the brim with social commentary, and bursting at the seams with cinematic greatness. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are brilliant in their leading roles, so beautifully and believably depicting their character’s transformations. Here are two women who were shackled by society and the male figures in their lives. For one brief moment, they are finally allowed to break free and run wild. As if to prove its own point, Thelma & Louise remains a one-of-a-kind film. That’s a crime worth killin’ over. MUST SEE. ~DT


The Talented Mr. Ripley

Anothony Minghella achieved Oscar glory with The English Patient, but after seeing his next directorial outing it’s hard not to argue that The Talented Mr. Ripley is his best work. Matt Damon delivers what might just be his greatest performance as Tom Ripley, a nobody hired by a wealthy businessman to go to Italy and retrieve his son Dickie (Jude Law). Tom grows to love everything about Dickie, going so far as to murder him and assume his identity. This is only the beginning of a fascinating character study that boasts sublime direction, rich and layered writing, and superb performances from a cast that also includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It’s hard to make a movie that forces us to watch us an individual’s dark deeds and make it entertaining. It’s even harder to make us understand and even identify with him. The Talented Mr. Ripley does both those things and much, much more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~DT


West Side Story

No matter how many times you watch West Side Story, every viewing makes you realize that they really, truly don’t make movies like this anymore. Set in New York City, two gangs are at odds due to their ethnic differences. Tensions between them rise to its peak when Maria falls in love with Tony. Both try their hardest to calm it down, but after an explosion of violence erupts, tragedy is all but certain. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins split their directing duties in half. Robbins handled the musical/dance aspect—thank him for songs that are still memorable to this day—and Wise handled the dramatic aspect. Their combined efforts bring us a musical that has still stood the test the time, and for darn good reason. The overall two and a half hour epic of a musical does its best to bring out every single emotion you have, right down the final seconds, and it’s breathtaking to watch. MUST SEE. ~JB


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.

  • Asher Gelzer-Govatos


    So I feel like most of the time when I read stuff you right, I find myself nodding in agreement, or at the very least seeing where you are coming from. (Watch out, here comes a big but): BUT…

    I’m confused, maybe even confounded, by your reading of Raging Bull as casting LaMotta as a hero. Everything in the movie, as I see it, points toward a deeply troubled man first keeping himself from and then driven down from the heights of success by jealousy, paranoia, and rage. The end of the film in particular casts him in a pathetic, not glamorous, light. Trying to make a living as a sad sack comedian with Catskills jokes does not seem like a position you’d want to be in. I think part of the point Scorcese makes here is that having so much skill in the ring does not help LaMotta navigate his life; in fact the same things that make him skilled in the ring (his ferocity and refusal to compromise), are hindering him in real life.

  • baronronan

    I was afraid this would happen. I’m simply not funny enough; the last line of the Raging Bull piece was supposed to point to Wolf of Wall Street and the absurd depiction-as-endorsement reaction it’s elicited. Irony fail.

  • baronronan

    Aaaaand now I see that the last line of which I speak isn’t actually there, cos I never hit update when I added it in precisely for fear that my poor humour was… well, poor. It’s there now. And inevitably it looks as if I’ve only now made it up to excuse an insane reading.

  • Asher Gelzer-Govatos

    Oh no! I thought to myself as I posted, “I wonder if this is a WoWS thing”, but it didn’t seem winky enough!

  • Chris D. Misch

    Incredible line up right there. I mean Andrei Tarkovsky for gods sake!