This Week on Demand: 18/05/2014



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

Will there ever be a week in our little column that we can truly declare great? While this latest batch of Netflix releases includes what is, for my money, the year’s best movie by miles, it’s at the expense of another that misses out on my bottom spot by inches. But that’s an apt dichotomy for This Week on Demand: from the best of the best to the worst of the worst, we cover it all and everything in between. Except Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. We missed that one this week. Oh shush.


20ft Below: The Darkness Descending

If last week showcased the worst of Danny Trejo on autopilot, this week’s turn from the undiscerning star begs the question: is such banality actually better? 20ft Below: The Darkness Descending seems on the surface a departure of sorts, Trejo’s leathery visage put to use as the shadow-soaked subway-dwelling ringleader of a band of hoods beneath the surface of New York. Marc Clebanoff’s film—led less by Trejo than Kinga Philipps as a documentary director entering this underworld—is initially intriguing in its socio-political sentiments, but it’s clear almost immediately that these are less of interest than incidental aspects adorning a hapless genre tale. Co-star Frank Krueger adapts from his web series of the same name; the movie plays like an awful show not so much condensed as crammed, bursting at the seams with bad material that’s more often than not just baffling to behold. AVOID IT. ~RD


Alpha House

The mockbuster movies that comprise the bulk of The Asylum’s output are typically angled to exploit the undiscerning consumer, the kind who may, browsing Netflix, understandably expect Jack the Giant Slayer as they click Jack the Giant Killer. There’s not much of Neighbors to see in Alpha House, a fact that forgives the fleeting hope the film might be forged, to some small degree, on an idea of its own. Not so: this direct-to-video dreck might not exploit the antics of Efron and co. for its action, but it’s keen throughout to take advantage of its actresses’ eagerness to appear onscreen. Retrograde is too kind a word for rubbish like this, which manages—miraculously—to make a production house not known for tact to seem all the more tasteless. Horny halfwits, it seems, are the target audience here: there are websites best watched instead; the titillation’s far greater, and the camerawork too. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD


Apartment 1303

Apartment 1303 is a movie that makes Apartment 143 look like The Apartment” I quipped on reviewing the movie last year, and while the ten months since have produced another awful effort appropriately entitled to fit the gag—Apartment 4E, perhaps Penthouse North might manage to work too; wondering whether it would is infinitely more interesting than musing on this movie—none come close to the egregious inanity on show here. It’s a dreadful film, dependently dire in dialogue and decidedly dead-on-arrival where direction’s concerned. Michele Taverna, whose production credit on the Japanese original provided the gateway to the remake, serves his script with a style it so, so deserves; his actor’s overbearing affectations are often the only indication that horror’s the intention here. What lame, limp, lifeless tripe this is, a movie beyond salvation by even the strongest of hands. UNWATCHABLE. ~RD



Any humanities-based course will tell you the dangers of generalizations. You must narrow your focus and specify your argument in order to make an impact. Peter Webber’s Emperor could benefit from this lesson. The film teeters between a lower-end History Channel documentary and Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha, never deciding if it should focus on the historical aspects of Emperor Hirohito’s implications in war crimes, or if it should follow Brigadier General Bonner Fellers’ (Matthew Fox) romance with a Japanese woman. Emperor boasts great locations and costuming, but it lacks any weight to connect with audiences. AVOID IT. ~JG



CSI: Cyber has a rough road ahead if Evidence is any indication. Olatunde Osunsanmi’s film, adapted from the short of the same name by returning writer John Swetnam, is a curious catastrophe, cutting between a found footage film as pedestrian as can be and the active investigation of the crime team considering it. It’s a pacing disaster, not least of all for the unsolved issues all-too-often assailing handicam horrors; moving from the meandering, jump-scare saturated tedium of the tape to the equally uninventive investigation thereof, Osunsanmi struggles to invest us—or, it seems, himself—in anything at all. Stephen Moyer and Radha Mitchell are wasted as the dreary detectives, whose insistence on watching every frame of footage to learn about the victim’s lives is ironic, given we never do. All the evidence Evidence has to offer, in the end, is of its own issues. AVOID IT. ~RD


Free Birds

Reggie (Owen Wilson) is a turkey who has always known the inevitable fate of his species. When the President pardons Reggie, another turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson) kidnaps him and takes him to the past in order to stop the first Thanksgiving from happening. Beyond the fact that the film lacks any coherent logic of time travel (I recommend watching Futurama for a good course), it is also filled with childish humor, gaping plot holes, and pilgrims who are neither emaciated nor disease-riddled. It’s a good throwaway film to put on for kids, but I doubt that parents would enjoy suffering through this drivel. AVOID IT. ~JG

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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.