This Week on Demand: 20/04/2014



Editor’s Note: reviews this week are by Ronan Doyle and Jose Gallegos

Another week, another host of new Netflix content. Never far from the top of the priorities list for the VOD giant, gay cinema gets another welcome influx this week, with a golden oldie and a modern masterpiece both joining the fray amidst a wide crowd of lesser—but yet worthy—content. New releases are strong, which is to say many rather than especially good; one of the year’s biggest stinkers to date has joined our ranks, for the more masochistically-inclined among you.


A Fantastic Fear of Everything (Full review)

It’s difficult to imagine anyone out there not immediately associating Simon Pegg with the Edgar Wright collaborations that made him a star, but any such soul would surely be forgiven for thinking him a man incapable of leading a film. If Pegg’s place in the back row of blockbuster series like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible weren’t evidence enough of his natural home on-screen, his paltry presence in movies like A Fantastic Fear of Everything surely is. He’s in full-on Run Fatboy Run mode here, flailing about scarcely able even to serve the subpar dialogue he’s saddled with. The uncredited inspiration from a book by Bruce Robinson must surely be at the Withnail & I writer’s insistence; this wearily witless wackiness hasn’t a stray trace of the humour and pathos that make his work so wonderful. Crispian Mills’ script is a mess; if barely, co-director Chris Hopewell’s alluring aesthetic picks up a few of the pieces. AVOID IT. ~RD


A Farewell to Fools (Full review)

Flouncing about the frame as though reprising his role as Obelix, Gérard Depardieu contributes a scenery-chewing portrayal of simple-mindedness in A Farewell to Fools, a disastrously ill-disciplined Romanian remake of an earlier wartime classic. Anusavan Salamanian’s screenplay, his first in some three decades, is a tonal train-wreck, telling the story of an occupied town that elects to blame a mentally-impaired Frenchman for the murder of a Nazi soldier and thereby save themselves in strokes so broad it’s baffling to behold. How the modestly-budgeted production scored Harvey Keitel atop Depardieu is a mystery far more compelling than the drama, and—by way of the English dialogue his presence provides for—yet another problem to pile upon the others. This is a dreadful mess of a movie indeed, a film so ill-advised in intention it’s doomed from the outset. It’s all debut director Bogdan Dreyer can do to make it look passably pleasant. AVOID IT. ~RD


Edge of Seventeen

David Moreton’s Edge of Seventeen is a melodramatic look at Eric (Chris Stafford), a teenager from Sandusky, Ohio who loves Annie Lennox and is confused about his sexuality. Oscillating between the demands of being a good son, a best friend, and a club hopper, Eric finally collapses under the weight of these multiple identities and must choose whether to live a life in secret or to come out. The film works primarily because its moments, although cheesy, still ring true. Eric’s experiences, from his awkward first time to his experiments with new hairdos, have some element that is relatable to queer audiences. It is a heartbreaking, but realistic, look at what it takes to accept yourself for who you are, and I’m sure that a lot of gay men have watched this film multiple times. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~JG


From One Second to the Next

Trust the man who lent extraordinary existential weight to a plastic bag in the wind to make a PSA that’s genuinely horrifying. The various mobile phone companies that jointly funded From One Second to the Next did well to hire Werner Herzog as their director; he might not utter a word in the course of the short’s thirty-four minutes, but it’s not only from his voice the Bavarian’s bloodless tones can be heard. In content as much as background, the material’s ripe for a rote treatment, from which none could stray further than the director of Grizzly Man. He presents the horrors of texting and driving frankly and firmly; if there’s one thing Herzog does better than anyone, as evidenced in recent projects from On Death Row even to My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, it’s gazing into the void and refusing to turn away. That he never does is exactly what makes us want to. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


G.B.F. (Full review)

In spite of the cheesy sentimentality, the poorly delivered jokes, and the actors’ terrible portrayals of inebriation, Darren Stein’s G.B.F. still manages to charm the pants off of its audience. It tells the same coming out story that gay men (myself included) have watched a million times over: when Tanner (Michael J. Willet) is inadvertently outted by his best friend, he must deal with the consequences (including being the coveted G.B.F.—gay best friend—to three Queen Bees). Stein tries to make the material subversive, but that subversion is lost amongst his poor direction/execution (I’m pretty sure you can hear crickets when the actors tell jokes). Megan Mullally and Xosha Roquemore stand out amongst the bunch, delivering pitch-perfect performances while surrounded by mediocre amateurs. But beneath its shoddy exterior, G.B.F. still has a lively heart. It’s an enjoyable experience, one that I wouldn’t mind watching a couple more times. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


Interior. Leather Bar.

“And I thought… that’s interesting,” William Friedkin shrugs as he offers his opinion of Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco and Travis Matthews’ meta-documentary reconstruction of forty minutes of lost hardcore footage from Friedkin’s infamous ‘80s S&M thriller Cruising, in a YouTube clip of a post-screening Q&A, before going off on an array of tangents about the making of the original film. There, in a nutshell, you have the new movie: Interior. Leather Bar. is an intriguing idea as outlined on the page, far less so fleshed out to feature length. It is, at least, a short feature; this isn’t the worst way to spend an hour, but to construe the project as anything more than a coy curio would be to severely overestimate its worth. At its best investigating ideas of actors and artistry, its film-within-a-film-about-a-film airs make for increasingly irksome self-seriousness, and the mistaken sense that it’s got anything much of value to add. SO-SO. ~RD


Laurence Anyways (Full review)

Soon to play in the big leagues with his fifth feature Mommy in competition at Cannes, Xavier Dolan at just twenty-five has risen through the ranks at a rate like no other. Perhaps it’s the relative restraint of last year’s Tom at the Farm that saw the director—often derogatorily dubbed enfant terrible and wunderkind as though age and aesthetic predilection were indistinct—earn this new acclaim, but as the powerful peak of his peculiar brand of emotive expressivity, Laurence Anyways is proof positive that such dismissals were dubious. Hinged on an extraordinary performance from Melvil Poupaud as the male-to-female transsexual whose seismic shift in sense of self allows the film its epic stature, this is a textbook masterpiece, the bridge between the earlier films’ ill-disciplined excess and the pitch-perfect work to follow. It’s an enormous achievement, a beautifully balanced romantic saga that’s as jubilant as it is staunchly, stringently unsentimental. MUST SEE. ~RD



Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. In cinematic terms, it whitewashes the blemishes and flaws of your childhood favorites, turning them into perfect cinematic gems. Sometimes nostalgia doesn’t wear off, but other times it rusts (especially if you revisit the film). Mark Jones’ Leprechaun is a film that I fondly remember from my childhood, but that doesn’t mean it has aged well. It is yet another holiday horror rip-off, following a demonic leprechaun (Warwick Davis) whose avarice evolves into homicidal rage. Killing off anyone who steals his gold, the leprechaun goes toe to toe with his biggest challenge yet: a vegetarian prima donna (Jennifer Aniston) and her band of cultural misfits. The film lacks in the horror department, becoming a postmodern exercise in bad puns and terrible effects. AVOID IT. ~JG


Mother of George

I felt disconnected from Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George, which tells the story of a Nigerian couple’s ordeals with infertility and cultural expectations. Call me an insensitive person, but I just didn’t feel that spark that usually attracts me to a film. Perhaps it was my feminist side critiquing the male—and some female—characters, or maybe it was the filmmaker’s fragmented framing that left me cold. Whatever the reason, this is still a good film that boasts lush cinematography and great performances. Objectively, I can recommend this to readers, but I doubt that I would rank this on my list of personal favorites. RECOMMENDED. ~JG


Night Train to Lisbon

Casts don’t come more internationally esteemed than that of Night Train to Lisbon, in which Jeremy Irons’ Swiss professor sets off across the continent to solve a mystery that’s less an engaging narrative strand than an excuse to string together a host of prestigious faces. Christopher Lee; Bruno Ganz; Burghart Klaußner; Martina Gedeck; Mélanie Laurent; Jack Huston: all pop up, none much able to hide from their face the look of awareness that the movie they’re in is pathetically pedestrian. To say it’s adapted from Pascal Mercier’s novel is to do a kindness to the way Bille August films the pages; there’s nothing vaguely cinematic about the treatment here, an insult atop the injury that is an uninvolving plot in the first place. That the title invokes Night Train to Munich, perhaps, is purposeful: only decades ago might Night Train to Lisbon have seemed anything but utterly outdated. AVOID IT. ~RD


On the Other Side of the Tracks

If Intouchables was an enjoyably amusing alternate to the kind of comedy Hollywood might have made—indeed is as we speak trying to make—with the material, On the Other Side of the Tracks must be Omar Sy’s effort to do it their way before they get the chance to do so themselves. Don’t let the French accents fool you: On the Other Side of the Tracks is a studio film each step of the way, in spirit if not in reality. Sy stars alongside Laurent Lafitte as suburban and central Parisian policemen respectively; poor and rich, black and white, street and strict, there’s nary a simplistic binary the film doesn’t shoehorn into its decidedly unvaried variation on buddy cop formula. A fistful of decent laughs, at least, goes some way to making things tolerable, though cramped in amidst an endless onslaught of generic action and paltry drama, they’re easy to miss. AVOID IT. ~RD



It’s par for the course now, where Woody’s concerned, but the idea of his making a second film in a row outside America was a surprise of sorts at the time of Scoop, in which he again cast Scarlett Johansson at the centre of a London-based thriller, if a decidedly more comedic one this time. Taking what would become his last starring role in a film of his own until To Rome with Love, Allen’s the prime source of the fish-out-of-water antics that contribute what little laughs there are to be had here. Johansson and Hugh Jackman, for their part, enact the awkwardly supernatural-oriented story well enough; Allen’s never been all too strong playing with genre conceits, and many are the times Scoop struggles to stay afloat under the weight of his more naff turns. Still, it’s all pleasantly passable and—the typical jazz score traded in for a classical one—a joy to listen to, if not watch. SO-SO. ~RD


Short Term 12 (Full review)

The emotional cup doth overrun in Short Term 12, a movie that ought, by right, feel somewhat staid in the stereotypical way it plays with indie film tropes. But cliché as the conceit might sound on paper, such is the strength of Destin Daniel Cretton’s script—adapted from an acclaimed earlier short film of the same name—that the movie and its characters never feel less than utterly, entirely real. They are the staff and their charges at a centre for troubled youth, each of whom has as much to teach as learn. The poise of Cretton’s dialogue and the deftness of its delivery ably avoids the kind of noodly navel-gazing the premise perhaps suggests, all turning in terrific performances that make the most of the material. None, though, do better than Brie Larson, who makes a star of herself at the centre here. In a film of wonders, she is extraordinary. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Taxi zum Klo

There could be no better film to arrive in the same week as Interior. Leather Bar. than Taxi zum Klo, Frank Ripploh’s unashamedly autobiographical gay cinema milestone that stands not only as a passionate alternate to the wary voyeurism of Cruising, but also as an aesthetic and intellectual superior to Franco and Matthews’ treatise on society’s sexual mores onscreen. Literally translated as Taxi to the Toilet, it’s a movie that doesn’t merely describe but actively delights in describing the vividly virile scene in West Berlin circa 1980. If Ripploh’s frankness—he stars himself, with many sex scenes—can seem self-indulgent, it’s all in service of a soaring study of deciphering the distinction between love and sex amidst a cultural climate that decries you as criminal for the latter and incapable of the former. What a wonderfully open and honest film this is; it’s as important now as ever it was. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


The Eagle

Kevin Mcdonald’s The Eagle doesn’t do anything inventive with the sword and sandal film… or the buddy film for that matter. Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), a bronzed hunk with daddy issues, takes his misunderstood Scottish slave Esca (Jamie Bell) in search of Marcus’ family’s honor (a gilded eagle). You can pretty much predict the rest of the film: Marcus and Esca learn more about one another; Esca betrays Marcus’ trust; the two make up; blah, blah, blah. Marcus and Esca’s homosocial behavior is akin to two buddies skipping detention and hanging out at the mall (and oftentimes the dialogue feels that way). Knowing the ultimate outcome of The Eagle doesn’t necessarily detract from the better aspects of the film—production design; costumes; action sequences—but it sure doesn’t make the film a worthwhile viewing experience. SO-SO. ~JG


The Family (Full review)

The gangster genre is a staple of cinematic history. The witty dialogue, the shady characters, and the fast-paced action sequences have kept audiences entertained for many years, but there are only so many times that you can recreate the same story over and over again before it gets tiring. Luc Besson tries to breathe new life into the gangster genre with The Family, but his film fails on one—of many—important aspects: plausibility. Ex-gangster Giovanni (Robert De Niro) moves to Normandy under the witness protection program. Along with his sociopathic tendencies (which injure a few neighbors/repairmen), Giovanni also brings a delusional daughter who thinks that sex equals love, a pyromaniac wife who blows up a market full of xenophobic employees, and a surreptitious son who runs a black market ring in his school. The Family is less like an original take on the gangster film and more like a bored teenager’s fan fiction for the ending of Goodfellas. SO-SO. ~JG


The Players

He won our hearts in The Artist and cemented his Hollywood heartthrob status via supporting turns in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Monuments Men: Academy Award®-winner Jean Dujardin, it seems, can do no wrong. Except, of course, make The Players, an infidelity “comedy” as unerringly offensive as it is unwaveringly unfunny. You’ll pine for the silence of his Oscar-winning role as Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche smugly smile their way through an insufferable series of broadly comic sketches as assuredly inane in setup as they are dependently despicable in their misogyny. Here is the latest in an all-too-long line of straight male chauvinist comedies this year, a film that depicts deplorable behaviour not only without a hint of irony, but with an active invitation to laugh along with these abominable antics. The level of delusion on display in this tripe is staggering; looks like the danger of a fine face is letting it go to your head. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


Time to Leave

If last year’s terrific—and terrifically underrated—In the House showcased François Ozon’s finesse in genre storytelling, it stood as a stark reminder too of the versatile filmmaker’s phenomenal tonal range. The wickedly playful approach of that film could scarcely be further from mind in 2005’s Time to Leave, a difficult and dark drama of death and despair that sees the director embracing the tougher realities of life. Melvil Poupaud makes his second serious splash of the week on Netflix as the central character, a fashion photographer who meets a three-month prognosis with a self-destructive spiral of atrocious behaviour to those around. As striking a take on family and relationships as the previous year’s 5×2, if perhaps not entirely as affecting, Time to Leave is a fine take on life as seen through death. A tremendous supporting turn from Jeanne Moreau seals the deal. RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The sole Asian film this century to take home the Palme d’Or, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s resolutely ruminative drama treats reincarnation as any other film might a passing postman. There’s a certain soothing serenity to the manner in which the movie happily accepts the supernatural conceits at its centre; how strangely special is the scene where the eponymous lead is joined for dinner by his wife’s ghost and the imposing form of his long-lost son, who returns in some strange shadow-cloaked shape. For all the film’s fantasy elements, then, it’s a remarkably reserved look at life and the way we deal with its end, distilling the pensive pace of its plot to a powerfully moving movie that invites us to mourn a life we do not know while mulling over one we do well: our own. This is a special sort of cinema indeed: quiet and contained and completely and utterly spellbinding. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. ~RD


Wrong Cops (Full review)

If Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong looked like a smart step in the right direction to realising the absurdist potential of Rubber, Wrong Cops is an about-face and a fresh set of steps en route to the wrong thing. What made Wrong so right was the simplicity of its surrealism: amidst all the alarming oddity of that absurd plot, we had the distressing, affecting tale of a man who was deeply sad to have lost his dog. Deprived of the same human core, this off-shoot semi-sideways-sequel amounts to little more than a series of scenes that seek to shock with the extent of their strangeness. They don’t, not least of all because the case just aren’t up to the task; the comic cadence of their performances suggest a distinct direction on Dupieux’s part, but it plays out only like an array of acting amateurs stuck with a script they don’t really get. You and us both, guys. AVOID IT. ~RD


Zaytoun (Full review)

Breaking out with the one-two punch of The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree—his genial, gentle takes on assorted Israeli conflicts starring Hiam Abbass—Eran Riklis deftly navigated difficult subject matter with a lightness of tone that’s enormously impossible to achieve, let along so equally enjoyably and impactfully. Zaytoun has him striving to do the same; the difference, alas, is in Nader Rizq’s debut script, a sloppy assortment of stiff clichés and staid storytelling technique that renders the film at once overly sentimental and utterly unemotive. Stephen Dorff and Abdallah El Akal do well as an Israeli soldier and Palestinian boy together traversing war-torn Lebanon with an olive tree in hand—do you suppose it maybe might mean something?—but it’s a losing battle they fight to keep the film alive. It’s not awful, at least; if Rizq hasn’t a hope of selling the story, there’s enough in the coy comedy to offer some apology. AVOID IT. ~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.