This Week on Demand: 02/02/2014



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

Welcome once more to a bloated belated batch of new Netflix releases, hastily compiled in as comprehensive a manner as possible to collate the dozens of new movies in this typically teeming first-of-the-month bulge. It’s a lesser one than usual, in fact, not without its fair share of classic perhaps, but certainly short of much in the way of modern greats. Oh well, we can’t have it all every week.


A Fistful of Dollars

And just like that, a star is born. Branching out beyond the straight-arrow good guy cowboy he had played on TV in Rawhide, Clint Eastwood set sail for Spain, and the first of an eventual three collaborations with upcoming Italian director Sergio Leone. A raw reconstitution of the dying American western and its outmoded moral archetypes, A Fistful of Dollars casts Clint as the wandering gunslinger quick to pit rival gangs against each other and scoop up the eponymous prize for himself. Less a great genre effort in itself than a foundation for those that would come—by both Leone and of course Eastwood himself—the movie’s dynamic bravura visualisation is as much a bold reconfiguration of western iconography as its narrative is a daring new approach to the dominant white-hat-black-hat duality of its forebears. That Eastwood and Leone earned their own fistfuls is indicative of just how needed it was. RECOMMENDED. ~RD



There may not be a comedy with a greater laugh-per-minute ratio than that of Airplane!, Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker’s sublimely silly and delightfully deadpan disaster spoof. Whether you’ve seen it or not you will already know the iconic gags, such is the stranglehold they have on popular culture. Surely you know at least of Leslie Nielsen, who broke the mould here in a way few actors have and radically redefined himself as a comedy superstar. His is but one among a handful of timeless roles, from Peter Graves’ appallingly inappropriate pilot to Lloyd Bridges’ everything-addict air traffic controller to an alarming number of other standouts among an all-time exemplary ensemble. Quality is better than quantity, they say; Airplane! is a movie that brings both to bear, pairing silly slapstick and sharp speech with a rapidity and richness to ruin the ribs. Rewatches are as necessary as they are guaranteed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Airplane II: The Sequel

But nothing better epitomises how masterful a comedy Airplane! is than its uninspired atrocity of a sequel, which literally just repeats its predecessor’s gags as though that in itself were enough. It proves, at least, that the first film is not the bastion of dumb humour some would have it: to see Airplane II: The Sequel is to see for sure the ingenuity of Airplane!; here the jokes are mounted with such crudeness and clumsiness as to dispel any doubt that the original’s silliness was in any way unsophisticated. That the sequel has only the same jokes done badly to offer is problem enough; that the great Leslie Nielsen is replaced by a late-stage William Shatner cameo is the final straw. Debut director Ken Finkleman had the decidedly dodgy distinction of having penned two cash-grab sequels in 1982, the other of which was Grease 2. Both, in the end, were very effective disaster films. AVOID IT. ~RD


A Life Less Ordinary

Few directors can lay claim to a debut duo as attention-grabbing and exciting as Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, which together announced the young Scot director as a visceral new cinematic voice with firm genre footing. The streak, alas, was but a short one; Boyle’s third effort was A Life Less Ordinary, a film less interesting. The unconvincing romance between Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz as a down-on-his-luck nobody and the wealthy heiress he kidnaps to extort a ransom is boring enough in itself without the awkward addition of a strange subplot centred on angels attempting to force the pair together. The cast, also including Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci, do their best to keep things afloat, restricted as they are with John Hodge’s uninspired script. But even on paper, this is a movie that hasn’t half the appeal of its predecessors among Boyle’s work; who’d have thought the guy behind those could make something this dull? SO-SO. ~RD



Soap opera meets social realism in Broken, debut director Rufus Norris’ brooding tale of class conflict and family chaos in a North London suburb. The act of extreme violence on which the movie opens, glimpsed by us as though through a neighbouring window, introduces the ideas of hearsay on which Norris’ study of social structures is founded. There’s a claustrophic sense to his shooting of this microcosmic cul-de-sac; the few escapes we find from the small cluttering of households between which the drama occurs are to ugly scrap- or schoolyards. Yet Norris shoots all with an unlikely expressive beauty, so striking that it even overrules Mark O’Rowe’s oft-imbalanced script. So too do the cast—headed by Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy, both regularly overshadowed by young lead Eloise Laurence—elevate their archetypal characters above the caricatures they can seem to be on the page. It takes strong elements to overcome flaws this glaring. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD



Not yet off the festival circuit in some areas of the world, Staci Passon’s striking drama Concussion arrives on Netflix heralded by its top commenter as “basically a gay Belle du Jour”. That’s a fair, if frigid, descriptor of this fine piece of work, a deeply heartfelt character study that’s first and foremost a look at suburban (dis)satisfaction, regardless of sexuality. Robin Weigert is everything Passon can have hoped for as Abby, the middle class mother of two spurred by a baseball to the head to seek extra-marital interaction as an escort names Eleanor. With the kind of gentle wit that says much of the insecurities it masks, Weigert and a wonderful supporting cast explore the intricacies of this character in eventual, arresting detail. Shooting softly to match her script’s sensitivity, Passon earns attention here easily; her pace isn’t perfect, but she has delivered here a debut that demands her next be awaited intently. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Dark Touch

French director Marina de Van helms the Swedish-backed Irish horror film Dark Touch, a beast every bit as much a hybrid in narrative terms as it is in production. That’s not, alas, a good thing: opening on an impressively mounted—if only fleetingly frightening—haunted house sequence, this awfully-acted effort progresses through almost every subgenre there is, sure to take on the least interesting elements of each as it strives vainly to find something to say. It does, at least, have a spine of social commentary to see it through the more egregious instances of derivative tedium; a spectacularly misjudged conclusion, though, is sure to see that puny seed of potential planted where the sun don’t shine. What a weird, wild, misfire of a movie this is, so strikingly atonal that it might be ironically enjoyable if not for the possibilities it fleetingly feels to be moving toward. AVOID IT. ~RD


Day of the Dead

It is one of the great failures of popular culture that Sarah Bowman, heroine of Day of the Dead, is not every bit as well-known a name as Ellen Ripley. The third film of Romero’s Dead series—often referred, out of disdain for the three recent films, as the last of the “trilogy”—is so unassuming in its appointment of a woman to action lead that it’s almost unsurprising that it hasn’t been afforded the recognition it deserves. Maybe it’s merely because it isn’t as fine a film as Alien; while Romero’s best attributes are on full display here, his social commentary pointed as ever and his gory sensibility nicely indulged in Tom Savini’s terrific make-up, the film suffers for certain eccentricities in the ensemble that render the drama a touch over the top. Still, the social malaise herein established is impressive; Romero, as ever, gives us a movie that’s fun and intelligent in equal measure. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Dirty Mary Crazy Larry

If it wasn’t for Quentin Tarantino, I wouldn’t have even heard of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (then again, that goes for a lot of titles in most of our cinematic lives). I thank him for this. Larry (Peter Fonda, post-Easy Rider) is a NASCAR driver, and one day he and his mechanic buddy Deke (Adam Roarke) decide that some crime and robbing would be the best way to buy a new, better race car. They didn’t anticipate all the attention they would attract from the cops, or even worse, the attention of Larry’s “girlfriend” Mary (Susan George, post-Straw Dogs). The two become a racing version of Bonnie and Clyde (without the violence) as they create all kinds of chaos with their 4-wheel weapon, and have all kinds of fun doing it. Fortunately, the movie invites us in on the fun with its infectious energy, taking an extremely simple story and mashing up mayhem with absolute joy. RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Dracula 3D

Dario Argento. Boy oh boy oh… hell. Look, it’s no surprise that the man’s quality level has gone down almost dramatically. His last effort, Giallo, is arguably the worst thing he’s put out, possibly in his whole filmography. The good news? Dracula 3D—or known as Argento’s Dracula on Netflix, which I prefer—is much better. The bad news? Well, that depends on your outlook on bad movies. If you love them or have a special place in your heart for them, then you’re going to eat… this… up. Argento’s Dracula is a special kind of terrible. The approach is monotonously charming, and at the same time disheartening that he didn’t really try much to be truly original here (except that mantis scene… wow). If you hate bad movies, the first thing that’ll glare at you is Argento’s venture into digital; Suspiria cinematographer Luciano Tovoli fails miserably with the technical jump from film. Which side are you on? SO-SO. ~JB


Enter the Void

It is rare to see a film as resoundingly personal as Enter the Void, Gaspar Noé’s third—and sadly still most recent—feature. Not, that is to say, that the movie’s stream-of-spirit approach from the spectral perspective of a murdered drug dealer in Tokyo is reflective of the personal experience of the director; rather, the existentialist ideas at the heart of this masterwork offer a comprehensive containment of their creator in a way few films ever do. It is an extraordinary film, pondering personality and perspective with a transient abandon that’s at once unyieldingly intellectual and ferociously visceral too. Such is the plane on which Noé operates, engaging the viewer’s mind and body in tandem with his characters’, all as a means to approach the soul. And oh what a soulful movie it is: black and bleak and bare as it might seem, Noé shows us as the sum total of our memories, our traumas, our terrors. MUST SEE. ~RD


Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007

After watching Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 I get the feeling it was made for people like me. Personally, the only incarnations of Bond that have even remotely thrilled me have been Daniel Craig and some of Pierce Brosnan’s takes. Nothing could have prepared me for the brutal honesty this documentary brings. Going over every single aspect, from Ian Fleming to one-time Bond player George Lazenby—who has some fantastic moments—no stone is left unturned, even the ugly ones. Stevan Riley, who broke into the documentary world back in 2006 with Blue Blood, may have found his calling here. Not only does he pick and assemble the best stories to help make Bond’s 50 years come to life, but his execution—with the help of editor Claire Ferguson—flies at you almost a mile a minute, which is smart considering that this is worth multiple viewings. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JB



A Pittsburgher struggling to pay the bills yet somehow able to afford an apartment the size of a parking garage works as a welder with damn good hair by day, but after hours she’s a dancer at a night club that would rival the one Matthew McConaughey runs in Magic Mike. Bet you’d never guess she wants to be a ballet dancer. Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance may be short on characterization, logic, and well-written dialogue, but you’re insane if you came to this movie expecting any of those things. Featuring a fantastic soundtrack including an Oscar-winning song, the film works as one giant commercial for the ‘80s. Thanks to the influence of Jerry Bruckheimer, the movie feels like one giant music video. The awful dialogue makes it even more enjoyable. This is a guilty pleasure if there ever was one. Did I mention there’s an ice skating scene? WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


Marathon Man

Reuniting with John Schlesinger, who had directed him to a second Oscar nomination in Midnight Cowboy, Dustin Hoffman brought the best of his out-of-his-depth everyman abilities to Marathon Man, a fitting companion piece to his other major release that year in All the President’s Men. Though here the conspiracy isn’t quite so real; impeccably though he might play it, earning the film’s sole Oscar nomination in the process, Laurence Olivier’s Nazi villain is a decidedly quaint character in the context of ‘70s paranoia, not quite so capable a conduit to social commentary as the more morally deft Pakula films of the period. Still, what a terrific thriller this is; Hoffman and Olivier find fine companionship in a charismatic Roy Scheider as brother to the former and hunter of the latter, topping a trio of tremendous performances that make this movie an eminently enjoyable experience. Conrad Hall’s compelling cinematography is the icing on the cake. RECOMMENDED. ~RD



The great master of the ensemble, Robert Altman launched his career after over a decade of TV direction with 1970’s MASH, a movie so successful its small screen spin-off would last well into the next decade. And it’s easy to understand why; Ring Lardner, Jr’s Oscar-winning script is a satirical gem, embellished freely by Altman’s ad-lib-encouraging approach and a cast that consistently manages to make it their own. Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould lead proceedings, their characters’ carefree and anti-establishment approach—despite the Fox-insisted statement of a Korean War setting—the perfect pointer toward the film’s thinly-veiled take on the contemporary conflict in Vietnam. Commitedly episodic and very, very funny, it’s a movie content to allow its commentary arise incidentally and unassumingly; our understanding of the war and its follies, as for the characters, arises slowly but surely as the façade of humour begins to wear thin. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Nightmare Factory

How nice it is to see Nightmare Factory arrive in a place where, with any luck, the audience it deserves can see it. One of the many behind-the-scenes documentaries that falls through the cracks every year, it made a modest festival run throughout 2012 before a Hallowe’en TV showing last year came and went largely unheralded. It’s an affable and interesting piece, conceived with affection aplenty by director Donna Davies as she examines the impact of Hollywood horror effects studio KNB EFX—which fittingly found early success on Day of the Dead. George Romero, Quentin Tarantino, John Landis, John Carpenter, and the ever-game Frank Darabont are on hand to tout the merits of the company’s core team, attested by an impressive barrage of clips and hands-on examples of how these gruesome effects are mounted. Horror fans should be delighted; this is a lovely little tribute to people who work has kept us squirming. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Patriot Games

Before Ben Affleck and Chris Pine had their chance, and after Alec Baldwin originated the character, Harrison Ford gave us his interpretation of Jack Ryan in Phillip Noyce’s Patriot Games. This 1992 action thriller may not be as cerebral as its predecessor (The Hunt for Red October), and it certainly has a tendency to rely far too often on action scenes as plot points, but it is still a solid and entertaining thriller. The incredibly fast-paced film opens with Ryan thwarting a terrorist attack by the IRA, making himself not only a national hero in the process but also a target for revenge. With both his nation and family in danger, Ryan is forced to rejoin the CIA and make sure the baddies are stopped. The film’s traditional premise and occasional outdated bits are made up for by a great supporting cast that features the likes of Sean Bean, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Harris James Earl Jones, and Hugh Fraser. RECOMMENDED. ~DT


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

After two great Star Trek movies (Wrath of Kahn and The Voyage Home) and a solid one (The Search for Spock) nestled between them, there was a great amount of expectation regarding the newest addition to the franchise. The Voyage Home had successfully introduced a dose of humor into the franchise, something that The Final Frontier clearly wanted to emulate. The result in a film confused about its plot points, themes and tone. This movie is all over the place. One scene has Kirk, Spock and Bones singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; another has Uhura doing a seductive dance. Between these we get musings on pain and musings on being able to talk to God in person. At times boring, other times gripping, and yet other times so bad it’s hard to watch, The Final Frontier is a film that has to be experienced to be believed. AVOID IT. ~DT


The Croods

From the opening of DreamWorks’ latest to its final frame, the animation in this movie is fan-freakin-tastic. Directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders and their talented team of animators have created with The Croods an imaginative world full of adventure and beauty. There are cool prehistoric animals that are both terrifying and adorable, colorful and vibrant landscapes, and a somewhat interesting pack of cavemen. The third ingredient is what holds the movie back from being so great. Despite a talented voice cast that includes the likes of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Cloris Leachman, there is nothing here to stay with you after the credits apart from exceptional visuals. We are given countless action scenes which, though impressive and immaculately constructed, become incredibly redundant given the overly familiar excuse for a story. That said, The Croods is far from a bad movie. Did I mention it features Nicolas Cage as a caveman? WORTH WATCHING. ~DT


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

And here we have perhaps the finest example of “those that would come” promised all those capsules ago; here, just two years after they redefined the western on Spanish sands, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone reached the peak of their historical collaboration, an extravagant epic whose quick-cut contrast of close-ups and wide shots is an appropriate visual motif for a movie that alternates between compelling character detail and a grander picture of American conflict. Tonino Delli Colli’s sumptuous cinematography joins Ennio Morricone’s incomparably iconic score to craft some of the most immortal scenes in celluloid history, a film you needn’t necessarily watch to have seen, such is its cultural caché. Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach join Eastwood to form the titular trio, whose playful plotlines entangle and unfold to form an epic that’s understandably heralded as one of the genre’s finest hours. How much it says that Leone would go on to top it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~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.