This Week on Demand: 06/04/2014



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

Here we have it: the start of another year on demand; this column’s third trip round the sun is officially underway. What better way to start than with one of those wonderful first-of-the-month booms, and in the company of new friends. Welcome aboard this week Jose Gallegos, whom Next Projection readers will know well for his ever-insightful, anecdote-infused approach. We’re as glad to have him as we are lucky; you need only read on to find you’ll agree. As ever, it’s an eclectic blend this week, from the first steps of the New Hollywood through the blockbuster era right up to a host of modern indie efforts.


A League of Their Own

This is a fun movie, especially if you grew up watching it as a child. Penny Marshall’s story of female baseball players in WWII has some dated elements to it, but it still maintains its charm because of its well-crafted characters, especially the female characters. It is quite rare to create a film with great female characters; it’s quite another to have them preoccupied with something other than men and housework. A League of Their Own may not be a shining beacon of feminist cinema, but it still has longevity that is owed, in large part to its actors and quotable script. RECOMMENDED. ~JG



Who would have thought that Lewis Carroll’s fish-out-of-water fantasy, a hit for Disney in the ‘50s, would all the better suit the stomach-turningly surreal style of Czech stop-motion maestro Jan Švankmajer. The tongues and tendrils that previously populated Švankmajer’s shorts—and the nightmares of all who saw them—assail the young Alice’s appendages in a feature debut that taps the far, far darker aspects of Carroll’s treatise on imagination gone wild. Genuinely disconcerting as only Švankmajer’s crawling creations can be, the creatures that arrive in Alice are enough to forever skew interpretations of the tale, false teethed-socks and behatted birds’ skulls making magnificently macabre this weird Wonderland. That it’s hilarious, to boot, is easy to forget; Švankmajer’s style is so sublimely, superbly strange that laughter is often the only available reaction, like an involuntary diaphragm spasm that draws the rest of the body into the act. Debuts don’t come much better. Adaptations are never so inventive. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Ass Backwards

How fitting it is, the opening shot of Ass Backwards, as liquid trickles down a gentle roadside slope as the camera pans—slowly, slowly—to reveal its source as the squatted shapes of the films’ protagonists: quite literally the film starts with toilet humour and goes downhill from there. If Bridesmaids’ mainstream reminder that women can be funny too opened the door for more ladies to offer proof, it also allowed in an ample supply of those keen to show that equality in comedy works both ways. Ass Backwards is awful, not because it’s a movie that languishes in low humour, but instead because it’s one that operates with no humour. Star-scribes June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson previously penned Bride Wars; here, the pageant-based plot plays out like a satire of such stereotypical narratives, albeit one mounted by a team that wouldn’t know satire if it dropped trou and pissed right before them. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD



Before Adam Sandler became the man we all know today (and not in the best of lights), there was a time when any upcoming film from him wasn’t automatically met with foaming hatred. In fact, if you rewind back to the mid 2000s, you’ll see it was a much better time. 2006 brought us Click, Sandler and company’s own “unique” version of It’s a Wonderful Life. He plays Michael, an architect that’s so frustrated balancing his work and family life that he just wants to slow down time. Cue Christopher Walken and a creepy remote that literally programs the speed of his life. What first appears to be a miracle quickly turns into a curse. Call me a sucker, but I fell for this movie hard way back when, and I still do. It’s funny and oddly touching. Sandler always works best when being directed by Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Here Comes the Boom). RECOMMENDED. ~JB


Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Shot straight to the Hollywood hills after the enormous, industry-shifting success of Jaws, Steven Spielberg joined close friend and colleague George Lucas in turning his eye to the skies. Star Wars made more of an impact, to say the least, but from its compellingly contemplative pace to the questions it asks, Spielberg’s is the finer sci-fi. The work of effects wiz Doug Trumbull isn’t the only hint of heavy inspiration from 2001; there’s an undercurrent of awe to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a sustained sense of slightly-scared wonder at the thought of what lies beyond. For Spielberg, among others, that was E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, a movie whose relative strength of emotion and character retrospectively renders the earlier film a touch trifling by contrast. There’s much to admire regardless, from an animated Francois Truffaut dogged by a bearded Bob Balaban to the eccentric energy of Richard Dreyfuss; they’re characters alright. RECOMMENDED. ~RD



SNL has a terrible track record when it comes to making films (only two decent films came out of the last 35 years). Coneheads is not one of those “decent films.” It is more of a nostalgia vehicle, one that was more entertaining when you were a child (I’m sure most adults didn’t enjoy taking their children to see it). The characters of the film work better in short sketches rather than an hour and a half feature, whose jokes rely too much on “Look how kooky these aliens are that they don’t know how things work”. It’s a film to watch when you want to remember your childhood, but it doesn’t warrant multiple viewings. SO-SO. ~JG


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

2000 was the year for director Ang Lee. Never mind Brokeback Mountain or The Life of Pi. The success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon freaking made Lee. Try to remember back to that time. It was all anybody could or would talk about. And cue my sigh. I have to admire Lee for making a touching love-letter to classic cinema. The performances from the cast, including a then-rising Ziyi Zhang, the cinematography, score… everything is very good. Maybe great. But it’s just not amazing. That’s my relationship with almost every Ang Lee movie I’ve ever seen. Brokeback is the only one that’s come close to being a true classic. Crouching Tiger, along the rest of his films, are fine ways to spend an afternoon/evening. But not much else. RECOMMENDED. ~JB



Following on the heels of last year’s Shotgun Wedding and the recent How to Be a Man, along comes ETXR to continue the new Fox Digital Studio’s distribution deal with Netflix. It’s exciting to see a studio playing with new formats and taking—admittedly tiny—chances on newcomer talent; alas, in the case of this latest outing at least, it’s not paid dividends. Trevor Sands’ film starts strong, introducing the down-on-his-luck DJ whose former colleague contacts him to interpret extraterrestrial musical transmissions in a blast of digitally-driven visuals, before collapsing into a cacophony of electro as annoying as the strobe lighting it’s set to. To liken the characters to cardboard cutouts is to discredit the nuance of its corrugation and to miss the distinction that those, at least, might manage to stay standing. No, the cheap stereotypes that populate this trip are about as much fun as a fidgety first-time dropper, if never as much a cause for concern. AVOID IT. ~RD


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Curt comedy can’t dispel the overbearing air of fragility that hangs over Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Stanley Kramer’s delicately-balanced drama of interracial attraction in an America where—at the time of filming, if not release—marriage between black and white remained illegal in seventeen states. A small cast of characters and a single significant location make for a movie that—especially given the suspect set decoration—tends to feel a tad stagey, though Kramer’s camera isn’t without its moments of sharp screen use. The power here, dormant in William Rose’s dialogue, comes from the cast, who channel the tough themes of liberalism literally confronted in its own home with remarkable restraint and, when the moment is right, rage. The omnipresent tears that hang from Katherine Hepburn’s eyes are as powerful as the rousing concluding speech from Spencer Tracy; that their romance fell prey to his death two weeks later only adds to the picture’s power. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Mean Girls

I may be crazy to say this, but I truly believe that Mean Girls is a documentary rather than a stylized film. It’s hard to distinguish fantasy from reality since so many schools, colleges, and work places have those same cliques. Like the equally brilliant Heathers, Mean Girls has embedded itself into pop culture. Who hasn’t quoted the film or categorized him or herself as a Regina or a Cady? (I myself am a Janis Ian.) Mean Girls is sheer perfection, from its daydreaming sequences of teens fighting like animals to its brilliant montages of Cady and Janis trying to overthrow Regina. It is a timeless film, one that is perfect for any occasion. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


My Bloody Valentine

George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine is like a cross between Halloween and Footloose, except that it takes place in a Canadian mine instead of a small American town. The menacing killer of the film apparently hates dances, and decides to kill anyone who wants to boogie. The murders are rather creative: each person has his or her heart ripped out, then he or she is stuffed into a fridge or a drier. My favorite death has to be that of Sylvia (Helene Udy), who is impaled on a shower pipe after she screams her head off at the sight of falling laundry. Mihalka does little to advance to the slasher genre and relies on the same old tropes and themes, but at least his characters are getting killed for their dance fever instead of their overactive libidos. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


Now Is Good

It’s a curious kind of trend in indie cinema these days: the terminally-ill kid whose desperate dying wish is to sample the earth’s carnal delights before it’s too late. Even navigated with pained poise in something like Death of a Superhero, it’s a narrative formula that’s nothing if not conceited. All the more so in Now Is Good, a terribly stiff take on the idea that’s as emotionally unstable, for all its free-flowing sentiment, as Dakota Fanning’s leukemic Brit. The accent is the only affectation that works: Ol Parker’s bestseller-based script struggles to play the drama naturally, his dialogue uneasy in the mouths of a cast that also includes Jeremy Irvine as the boy next door and Paddy Considine as the barely-coping father. Strong cinematography from Submarine and Tyrannosaur DP Erik Wilson offers an aesthetic reprieve; when the movie manages to hit the right notes, it’s most often the effect of a well-chosen lens. SO-SO. ~RD


Orgasm, Inc.

A good documentary is one that doesn’t focus on style over substance. It digs deep to explore its subject, allowing the visuals and the testimonials to tell the story rather than beating the audience over the head with metaphors and “artsy” shots. Unfortunately, Liz Canner’s documentary cannot find an equal balance between the two. The content does expose some interesting facts pertaining to the fabrication of female inadequacy and the “cure” for female sexuality at the hands of big pharmaceutical companies, but the cheesy animated race of female sex remedies does little to elevate the material above the quality of a student film. Canner wants to display her range of talents in this film, but she would have created a much more nuanced message about women versus pharmaceutical companies had she taken a minimalist approach. SO-SO. ~JG



Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci) is a privileged sorority girl whose naivety keeps her trapped in a vapid world. Her candy-colored world is shattered when she helps train a disabled boy named Pumpkin (Hank Harris) for the “Challenged Games”. As the false façade of Carolyn’s world is tarnished, she realizes how much she loves Pumpkin, and how much he loves her. Pumpkin is more of a cult favorite rather than a critical darling. I rather enjoyed the satirical traits of the film, which remind me of Douglas Sirk’s use of the subversive elements of melodrama (before I get my cinephile card revoked, I’m just saying it “reminds” me of Sirk’s talent, I’m not saying it is that deep). It is quirky and fun, and rarely PC. If you are easily offended, this film is not for you. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


Scary Movie 3

The first installment was fun, the second was decent, and the third was just mediocre (there’s no room here to acknowledge the dreadful follow-ups, which seem to never end). Scary Movie 3 marks a deliberate shift in the franchise, in which the installments become less like the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons and become more like any given episode of Family Guy. This type of humor is funny at times, but it relies too heavily on popular culture, making most of the jokes unfunny to the uninformed. The plot itself is too convoluted to stand on its own (something about a cursed tape that somehow relates to aliens, an evil girl, and a rap battle). This filmic world is on the verge of collapse, yet it keeps on running on its perpetual post-modern energy. AVOID IT. ~JG



Click came at an opportune time for Adam Sandler”. That’s a quote that most people probably said about Spanglish back in 2004. The dramedy-disguised Oscar bait was a hotly anticipated film during that year, mainly because it was the feature directorial comeback for legendary writer/director James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets). Casting Sandler as a married, successful chef who falls in love with his maid (the debut of Paz Vega) after realizing his wife (Tea Leoni) is the bad kind of bonkers was considered a risky move for Brooks. Turns out, Sandler was the absolute best thing about the film. The rest of the elements, from the supporting roles right down to a mess of a screenplay, is riddled with inconsistency and a sense of humor that does more harm than good. I want to say Brooks fared better after this, but his last outing, How Do You Know, was one of the worst films of 2010. SO-SO. ~JB


Stephen King’s Thinner

Everything seems scarier when you are a child. When you grow up, some of those monsters are still scary, while others are exposed as tall men in a zipped-up costume. Holland’s Thinner is a terrible movie, and I can’t for the life of me understand why this movie scared me as a child. The story tells of Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) who, after he kills the wife of a gypsy, is cursed to thin into nothingness. The ridiculous story isn’t aided by any other elements: the makeup is awful, the characters are underdeveloped, the gypsies are completely offensive, and the entire film is resolved with a pie! My cinephilic hatred is reserved for worse films (namely The Human Centipede films and A Slightly Pregnant Man), so I will kindly say that I really didn’t like this film. AVOID IT. ~JG


Stuart Saves His Family

Director Harold Ramis brought us a lot of classics (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day). Stuart Saves His Family is not a classic. And yet, it’s just really, really, oddly funny. Based on the popular mid-‘90s Saturday Night Live segment, Stuart (Al Franklin) is a self-help “guru” who is all about positivity. His world gets turned around when his family, who are the exact opposite of him, come into play. His brother Donnie (Vincent D’Onofrio) might be worth saving, but what about his mom and dad? Seriously, how this was all brought about from SNL to a feature-length film is something I’m very curious about. While it misses some marks, when it hits, it’s like watching comedic gold. Franklin is fantastic here, as is D’Onofrio. And look at it this way: it’s a testament to Ramis’ ability to spin quality from the unlikeliest of places. You are missed, sir. RECOMMENDED. ~JB



Clear your mind and just think about how brilliant Jaws is… now mute that image and take out all the suspenseful imagery. Instead, put in a carnival-esque score, a giant octopus, and the underwater footage from Zombi 2, and you have Tentacles. This isn’t a terrible film, per se, but Italian directors have made better rip-offs than this (the aforementioned Zombi 2 is a good example). The film is rather tame in terms of exploitation elements, lacking in blood and action in order to focus on domestic struggles, such as Shelley Winters’ struggle to take two boys to a yacht race. Fortunately, the underwater terror is kept to a (bare) minimum, so you don’t have to worry that a giant octopus will eat you this summer (at least that’s what I think the octopus was doing). Heck, you might even have a couple of laughs during the movie. SO-SO. ~JG


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The thing that strikes me the most about The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the strike itself. It’s based on the true-life story of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (brilliantly played by Mathieu Amalric), who came out of a terrible stroke with only the ability to blink his left eye (since the rest of him became paralyzed). He decides to have a book written, and is taught the art of Morse code through his brave translator Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner). For a film that at first glance could pose as a calm sort of drama, it actually hits really freaking hard without any flash or loss of subtlety. Director Julien Schnabel (Before Night Falls) and writer Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) did an amazing job of structuring this story both in its feel and its narrative (the film is told in a non-linear fashion, which only adds a welcomed anxiety). MUST SEE. ~JB


The Fifth Element

Maybe to make up for the measured metre of his earlier English-language debut in Léon, Luc Besson went all out for follow-up The Fifth Element, a magnificently madcap twenty-third century yarn bedecked in kitsch colour and brimming with oddball energy. It’s an action sci-fi obvious both in its influences and its legacy, Gary Oldman’s delectably evil villain a demented twist on Die Hard’s, much as Bruce Willis’ hero channels the world-weary fatigue of John McClane. Chris Tucker leads a supporting cast of incredibly annoying pop-up appearances, chief among the handful of instances in which the film’s zaniness crosses the threshold. For a movie so smart in its distillation of pure pulp fun, it’s also remarkably stupid in so much of its interactions; at times it’s less a film for big kids than a kids’ movie that crossed over. And heck, that’s part of the peculiar charm. WORTH WATCHING. ~RD


The Graduate

It takes a special sort of movie to sport the finest soundtrack in film history and not be overshadowed by its own songs; if Rocky wrenched the montage from Sergei Eisenstein’s hands, t’was The Graduate bridged the gap with its remarkable associative marriages of image and sound. Mike Nichols’ movie is a masterpiece, a fully fitting follow-up to the promise of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the defining film, still, of the baby boomer generation. If it’s to the maturing malaise of a post-war America that the film first spoke, though, it’s indicative of its insight that it says so much still: generations X, Y, Z, and beyond have as much to learn from the from Benjamin Braddock’s tale as its original audience. The hilarity here and the deep discontent it so brilliantly and beautifully belies is ennui for the ages, a humorous, humane treatment of the advanced adolescence of the human condition. MUST SEE. ~RD


The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Netflix’s purchase of Malcolm Clarke’s documentary short subject well in advance of its Oscar win is evidence, above all, of the set-in-stone certainty these sideline races can attain. Adorable old lady and Holocaust backdrop, the prognosticators predicted, must chime with the Academy’s tastes. And who then were the voters to disagree? If it seems a cynical assumption of the Oscar process, it’s because there’s nothing in The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life itself to explain Academy merit. Shot in a hagiographic haze, tonally as much as visually, Clarke’s film is terribly toothless tedium, a overlong and undercooked melting pot of memories that makes mincemeat of its subject’s tale. She—the oldest Holocaust survivor at the age of 109—has since died, and it’s a shame to have her story recalled in an assemblage of ideas as undisciplined as this. A worth subject documented does not a worthy documentary make. SO-SO. ~RD


The Last Days on Mars

Ostensibly inspired by the no-one-can-hear-you-scream-scariness of Alien, Ruarí Robinson’s sci-fi debut feature owes as much of a debt to the knock-off exploitation Galaxy of Terror. If you thought Sunshine suffered in turning from the thought-driven Space Odyssey of its opening acts to the Jason X slashing of its finale you ain’t seen nothin’ yet: The Last Days of Mars flits back and forth from the existential brooding of lead Live Schreiber to the drill-wielding destruction of his reanimated astronaut friend with a wild abandon that makes Prometheus seem tonally concise by contrast. To call it a mess is to be unduly polite; this plot’s a disaster, all the more so courtesy of its disparate halves working relatively well in their own right. Here as in his shorts, Robinson is too busy with the look to iron out narrative kinks; with DP Robbie Robertson he gives the aesthetic exactly the finesse the story so desperately needed. SO-SO. ~RD


The Little Prince

Movie lovers who watch The Little Prince won’t be surprised that Stanley Donen is the director. The sets, colors, and dance sequences all scream Donen, but I doubt that fans of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novella will be all that impressed. The story of the titular boy from asteroid B-612 has left an impression on many children, including yours truly, so there is a lot of pressure to create a faithful adaptation of the book. The biggest problem with the film is all the singing. The film hits the important beats in the story, but ruins the moment by having characters screech their falsettos. Every song seems more like a parody of a musical rather than an actual musical. The one number that I do enjoy is Bob Fosse’s snake sequence, which is truly the highlight of the film. SO-SO. ~JG


The River’s Edge

Allan Dwan’s melodramatic western noir tells the story of a love triangle between a farmer, Ben Cameron (Anthony Quinn), his wife Meg (Debra Paget), and Meg’s old lover, Nardo (Ray Milland). My first reaction to this film was “who cares?” No one in this film is likeable, nor do I care about what happens to any of them. No amount of lush cinematography or decent acting can elevate the material above a second-rate film. Tonally, the film cannot decide to which genre it belongs, so becomes a nuisance to sit through and it is a headache to figure out. AVOID IT. ~JG


The Terminator

Different a movie as Aliens emerged to its predecessor, it’s easy to see why James Cameron was hired: the sci-fi-horror hybridity of Scott’s original is equally at work in The Terminator, if a good deal less effectively so. Arnie’s immortal role is, it’s sometimes easy to forget, more iconic than the movie itself, which has borne age poorly. Still, to suggest it’s not a right romp all the same would be silly: Sarah Connor’s struggle to escape her assassin is an early blockbuster-era classic for good reason, and not even Cameron’s dodgy dialogue can deter the film from remaining a fine slice of fun. The methodical murder machine that is Arnold makes for the finest scenes, of course; it’s not really until the superior sequel—crucially after Cameron’s time with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley—that Linda Hamilton’s heroine comes into her own, but she and Michael Biehn are a compelling enough couple all the same. 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.