VOD REPORT

December 2010

If you live where we live, winter has already arrived. So why not take advantage of the spicy concept they’re calling Video On Demand to allow yourself to watch great new theatrical releases without getting a big ol’ case of frostbite?

KEY:

— A three-star marking (***) equals a very high recommendation.
— A two-star marking (**) equals a high recommendation.
— A one-star marking (*) equals a recommendation.
— A no-star marking is reserved for those titles that are worth mentioning in some way, shape, or form.
— [Have Not Seen Yet But…Wanna] is self explanatory.

VIDEO ON DEMAND — DECEMBER 2010

Cinetic FilmBuff

Exit Through The Gift Shop

*** Exit Through The Gift Shop — Is invisible street artist Banksy’s debut feature an outright joke? Is it an actual profile of the Mr. Magoo-like Thierry Gutta (aka Mr. Brainwash), a video camera toting hanger on who spent years filming street artists only to become a known street artist himself? Does it condemn Gutta for his accidental success? Does it mock art aficionados for falling for Gutta’s shtick? Is it a shtick? Who knows. I’d like to think Exit Through The Gift Shop is a carefully orchestrated satire of the modern art world—Andy Warhol, most directly—that brilliantly exposes the absurdity of attaching so much monetary value to work that most of us walk past on the street without even noticing. Oh yeah, and it’s entertaining as sh*t. (Available on iTunes)

Pirate For The Sea [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available on Amazon VOD and Roxio/Cinemanow starting December 15)

My Normal [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available on Cable VOD, iTunes and Xbox December 7)

Nice Guy Johnny — Be sure to read my conversation with Edward Burns if you haven’t already. (Available on Cable VOD, iTune, and DVD now)

Film Movement

The following titles are available on Movies on Demand on Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Bresnan, RCN, and Brighthouse):

New:

Helena From The Wedding

*** Helena From The WeddingHelena From The Wedding, the debut feature from Brooklyn director Joseph Infantolino, isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for marriage. This dark comedy about spousal problems unfolds largely in a single, claustrophobic house like a snowbound Eyes Wide Shut, but instead of freaky masks and orgies there are holiday sweaters and group backgammon games. The drinking and drugs are still there, and so is the spousal insecurity, which begins as lingering paranoia and quickly moves from passive to very active aggression. And did I forget to mention the movie is also funny as hell? Read the full review here. (Cullen Gallagher)

*** Come Undone — Anna and Alessio ‘s relationship in Come Undone is adorably calm and content. She is a top employee at an insurance company and he’s a softhearted handy man who would do anything for her. After seeing Anna’s sister give birth, they agree to try and have a baby themselves. Soon after, Anna meets Domenico, a waiter as well as a father and husband. Their strong sexual connection results in an affair that is passionate but seemingly impulsive. The result is raw and jolting for the audience as well as the adulterers. Director Silvio Soldini does an incredible job of showing the real effects of an affair on the unsuspecting families. There is nothing glamorous about this film or anything that happens in it and the rawness is incredibly powerful. Rather than glorify their affair, Soldini shows us the often-unseen parts: the hard work of balancing two schedules, keeping up with lies, the anger developing between the lovers. Come Undone is difficult to watch as we see the characters continue down dark paths, but that realness is what makes Silvio’s film great. (Lauren Kinsler)

*** Something Like HappinessSomething Like Happiness slowly unravels itself to reveal a story of complicated and nuanced Czech families who have lived in the same housing project on the outskirts of a factory town for years. Monika, who’s boyfriend has left for America and will soon send for her to join, and Tonik (a Czech James Franco!) have known each other since childhood and frequently help their friend Dasha with her angelic two children. When Dasha becomes mentally unstable and is committed to a psych hospital, Monika delays her move to the States and naturally comes together with Tonik to take on the role of parents. Bohdan Slama has created beautiful and heartbreaking characters and most importantly, gives us time to fall in love with them. In this film of quiet tragedy and happiness with compassionate and poignant characters, a world is created that I did not want to leave so soon. There’s no doubt, after watching Something Like Happiness, why it received so many awards. (LK)

** Falling Angels — The façade of the Field’s perfect domestic family is coming to an end, but before we get there, we relive their history through the weaving of flashbacks. In a small Ontario suburb during the sixties, three sisters, extremely different in personality, deal with their unstable father and despondent mother in hilariously different ways. Lou, who fakes a bike accident to get a ride in her crush’s VW van and experiments with drugs, is the most rebellious. Sandy, who strives to be the perfect domestic woman, gets involved with a married man, while Norma, the eldest, takes care of their mother while quietly keeping alive a family secret. Scott Smith has fun with this film, creating a variety of characters that although at times feel stock, give the film a lot of color. Funny and dark, Falling Angels is an entertaining and close examination of a complicated family dealing with secrets and dysfunction in an era of great change.(LK)

Still Showing:

** The Hebrew Hammer — After a childhood of being bullied because of his religion, Mordechai Jefferson Carver (played by the brave Adam Goldberg) dedicates his life to defending his Jewish people. Imagine a Blaxploitation film but instead of the Shaft-esque main character you have a scrawny Hasidic Jew. In the film, Mordechai—aka The Hebrew Hammer—is on a special mission to save Hanukkah from the evil and homicidal son of Santa Claus, Damian (played by Andy Dick). The Hebrew Hammer is worth watching alone for its complete disregard for political correctness and the guest appearance by Mario Van Peebles, son of the Blaxploitation hero Melvin Van Peebles. While the explicit stereotyping and over the top parody has offended more than one group of people (they got sued but won!), I got a kick out of the fantastical plot and incessantly offensive jokes. (LK)

The Pope’s Toilet [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

Choking Man [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

The following titles are available on Movies on Demand on Verizon Fios & Charter Cable systems nationwide:

New:

** Helena From The Wedding (see above)

Still Showing:

** The Hebrew Hammer (see above)

Nurse.Fighter.Boy [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

Pulling John [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

Gravitas Ventures

Helen

*** Helen — Reviewed this back in October. A major standout from the international film festival circuit that is getting a second chance through VOD for a broader audience. As I wrote, “Molloy and Lawlor have a few subtle twists when getting inside of Helen’s head, not to mention a very dark cackle involving a teacher promising clear blue skies to his students. It’s hard not to be sucked into Helen once you hear Townsend’s first monologue and it’s worth it, if purely for the visuals.” This is truly one of the lost festival gems that failed to achieve any US release. This is a must-watch. (John Lichman)

*** Macbeth — If there’s one cultural export that can be performed consistently well, it’s taking the works of Shakespeare and throwing them through the ringer. In this take, Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) is a grunt in a crisp and stylized army set against dull blues and tunnels shaking from blasts. The subtle inclusion of the Witches in the chorus prove Julie Taymor should quit her side-gig remaking Shakespeare’s works and leave it to the British. Rupert Goold handles his shots well and frames the words of Shakespeare against Patrick Stewart decanting wine as if it’s another Thursday at the water cooler. (JL)

*** Peepli [Live] — Hat trick! Actually, the simplest description of this is also the weirdest: think of this like the Indian version of Swing Vote but with suicide being the focus over Kevin Costner’s cop-out choice. This Sundance 2010 alum has been quietly shifting around and seems unlikely at first: Natha, a farmer, is goaded by his older brother to commit suicide and thus negate the debt his family and farm have incurred. The warring political parties in the area take note of this after a reporter picks up the story and gets her own story stolen from a more popular nightly news show. From there it’s an Indian black comedy (which is a really weird term to think about amidst songs that sound like pop kitsch, but whose lyrics are like if Nick Cave felt like screwing around for a children’s record.) (JL)

*** The Cartel — Bow Bowdon is the type of reporter who gets characterized through the local news and he makes this point clear at the start of The Cartel. A flippant response is this is yet another doc on the verge of Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s rally-to-arms about the public school system with strict emphasis on the DC Public School system (of which I’m a graduate). Bowden has a video magazine familiarity with his editing and subject, producing a longer-form cut of something you could expect from Nightline that jumps around the 2000s while taking unnamed talking heads before getting to the gist: New Jersey schools are inflated with cash despite students who can barely function past an eighth grade level, much due to the infamous “Abbott” rulings that reign over the NJ school system. This came to a a head under Jon Corzine, who attempted to overturn the 1990 ruling… and you should check out The Cartel to find out. Bowden presents the boring and banal reporting mixed with a “Man On The Street” vibe that provides answers and insight over Davis Guggenheim’s slick one-sided shtick. (JL)

[NO STAR] Standing Ovation — The fascination of Glee is something that still confounds me, even if it is the natural progression of a post American Idol-culture. It gets even creepier when instead of twenty-somethings playing teenagers, actual 13-15-year-olds are used to promote something that could be described as “One Night Only: Jon Benet-Ramsey Sings!” Anyway, Ovation follows a group of “geeks” (i.e. four white girls and their one black friend who don’t have pink wigs) who fight their popular rivals (i.e. four identical white girls and their one black friend who do have pink wigs) as they battle in Atlantic City singing competitions. Immediately this brings to mind a twisted version of the early 1990s child-star competitions that made parents preen and pick their children to become Mouseketeers. Then there’s plucky children and fat girls with cobras and by a certain point I was unsure where the rivals started and the plucky “geeks” began. Listen, Standing Ovation is a film you put on for the 11-year olds you’re babysitting, have no idea how to communicate with them, the Disney Channel was blocked and they say they love Glee but their parents won’t let them watch it. And as soon as you turn it on, run out of the room and hide in the bathroom making out with your significant other until a masked slasher comes to kill all of you just to put you out of your misery. (JL)

IFC In Theaters + On Demand

New:

Hadewijch

*** Hadewijch — Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch is certain to be one of the most misunderstood films of this or any year, a blistering counterpunch to the prevailing understanding of the influence of Robert Bresson in the cinema and in modern life. Dumont uses the language and tools of Bresson’s “spiritual style” in order to subvert spiritual literalism and its logical and extreme conclusion. By taking the tropes and redemptive themes of the master himself, Dumont engages in a battle for the Bressonian legacy, rejecting the easy moral uplift of so much of recent cinema in favor of a finale that brings grace not to the spiritually conflicted warrior, but to a secular bricklayer hovering around the fringes of the narrative. Read the rest of HTN contributor Tom Hall’s full review on his blog The Back Row Manifesto. (Available starting December 15)

Still Showing:

*** White Material — Claire Denis proves once again that if she isn’t the greatest living filmmaker, she’s in the starting lineup. Unlike her debut feature, Chocolat, which was a much tamer reflection on her upbringing in Africa, Denis this time pushes the drama to its haunting limits. Isabelle Huppert stars as a coffee plantation owner whose stubbornness won’t allow her to take the advice of the French Army, her husband (Christophe Lambert), or her workers, and flee her land before child soldiers ransack her home and kill her entire family. White Material is an interesting fusion of Denis’s elliptical, poetic filmmaking style with a bluntly allegorical thematic approach. It is also, in a career full of startling film after film, one of her very best yet. (Available until February 24)

*** Enter the Void — Gaspar Noé’s first two features, I Stand Alone and Irreversible, combined transgressive shock tactics with tricky narrative structures and aggressively baroque (and highly accomplished) technique. Enter the Void scales back somewhat on the sex and violence, but in all other respects it’s Noé’s boldest movie yet. He goes for maximum sensory overload in every moment of every scene, bombarding the viewer with lens-and-light effects, swirling CGI psychedelia, swamp-dense sound design, and above all, stunningly virtuosic camerawork. Read the full review here. (Nelson Kim) (Available until December 17)

Carlos

*** Carlos — Olivier Assayas’s sprawling new French television miniseries observes a man who could both be easily vilified and mythologized and ultimately does neither. Villainy and mythology are the stock and trade of contemporary political discourse, perhaps dangerously so. In this mostly brilliant five-and-a-half-hour film, Assayas uses his signature loose, sensual style to represent the life of Illych Ramirez Sanchez, the Venezuelan born left-wing mercenary who was behind some of the most daring acts of political terrorism of the 1970s. Reunited with Demonlover DP Denis Lenoir, who bathes scenes in golden light to contrast a palette heavy on deep blues, browns and pale greens, the 50-something director has the opportunity to create an immaculately complex tapestry of European, Middle-Eastern, Asian and Latin American activists, freedom fighters, terrorists, government intelligence agents, Oil ministers, most of whom maintain their fair share of secrets and double agendas. Yet he never loses touch with the intimate portrait of a womanizing ideologue at the center, one whom the audience will be hard pressed to pass swift judgment upon, whose longings to fulfill the need for human intimacy and love come smack up against his own deep moral failings, his womanizing and grandstanding, and the system of international terrorist networks and their sponsor states that uses and ultimately discards him. (Brandon Harris) (Available until January 20)

Inspector Bellamy [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until December 31)

Inhale [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 6)

Beneath The Dark [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until February 3)

IFC Midnight

New:

Black Heaven [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until March 3)

In Their Sleep [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available starting December 3)

Vengeance [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available starting December 10)

Still Showing:

Macho [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until December 15)

Primal [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until December 22)

** Red White & Blue — Many months after having seen it, I’m still not sure how I feel about Simon Rumley’s punishing Red, White & Blue, although another month has somehow made me upgrade one-star rating to two. File this under “non-American director puts his own warped spin on what life is like in the good ol’ US of A.” One thing’s for sure. Though Red, White & Blue gets shockingly twisted, this isn’t mere torture porn. Rumley uses an elliptical editing style that keeps viewers off-balance throughout and makes his film feel artful even when everything else about it screams schlock genre. Rumley definitely drills his casting—at least with regards to his two main leads. Noah Taylor and Amanda Fuller don’t just look the part. They are the part. Though I am still scratching my head about Marc Senter, whose own performance is so campy that I can’t tell if this was intentional (good David Lynch) or unintentional (bad David Lynch). Even if you like it, Red, White & Blue will make you feel gross. And if you don’t, it’ll make you feel really gross. (Available until December 22)

Sex Magic

??? Sex Magic — A star rating doesn’t really apply to this documentary so three wide-eyed question marks will have to suffice. Truth be told, I haven’t even seen the whole film, because at the time I felt too sleazy to make it all the way through, but almost two years later, it continues to haunt me. This isn’t fascinating in the “watching-a-train-wreck” sense of the term. It’s fascinating in a “watching-one-train–wreck-into-another-train-in-a-metallic-phallic-display-of-creepily-erotic-glory” kind of way. Watching Baba Dez manipulate women for murky reasons that he tries to justify makes for an uncomfortably hilarious ride (think David Brent as a hippified sex cult leader). And while it’s obvious, I’m gonna say it anyway: cast Willem Defoe if anyone ever makes a biopic! (Available until March 3)

Room In Rome [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 6)

Shadow [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 13)

High Lane [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 22)

Student Services [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 27)

Beneath The Dark [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until February 3)

Heartless [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until February 24)

Magnolia Pictures

New:

Night Catches Us [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available through Xbox and Amazon)

Still Showing:

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available On Demand Everywhere)

Sundance Selects

New:

And Everything Is Going Fine

*** And Everything Is Going Fine — What better way to tell the life story of brilliant monologist Spalding Gray than to let him tell it himself? That’s what he did anyway, right? Steven Soderbergh is wise enough to get out of the way and let Gray do the dirty work. That said, Soderbergh carefully interweaves Gray monologues, interviews, and assorted other video tidbits to create a more deeply felt tapestry. And Everything Is Going Fine doesn’t just sum up the life of a man who took his own life. It brings Gray to life once again, while also affirming how a tragic decision such as the one he made was in the cards all along. (Available starting December 22)

Still Showing:

*** Secret Sunshine — One of the bigger collective disappointments for cinephiles in America in recent years has been the lack of distribution for Lee Chang-dong’s deeply fulfilling drama about one woman’s quest to find herself when all appears to be lost. Better late than never (thanks, IFC Films!). Truth be told, it’s been so long since I’ve seen Secret Sunshine to write about it with any real clarity, but I can vouch for the astounding lead performance by Jeon Do-yeo, deserving winner of Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Secret Sunshine is one of those films that takes you in directions both emotional and literal, which makes it more akin to reading a long, rewarding novel versus breezing through a feature film. Now that it’s available, don’t let it pass you by. (Available until February 10)

*** Tiny Furniture — Lena Dunham’s follow-up to Creative Nonfiction isn’t just a major leap forward. It’s like a rocket launch to a bigger and brighter planet. For those of you who have been pining away for Whit Stillman’s return, Dunham—another Hammer to Nail contributor, thank you very much—is here to scratch that itch in a major way. Aspiring romantic comedy makers, please study this film. Dunham’s first brilliant stroke was to work with last year’s Silver Nail winner Jody Lee Lipes, who shot this film on the Canon 7D—technically a still camera!—but has somehow made it look like The Graduate. But removing that vital element from the equation, Dunham delivers a sharply written comedy that uses pop culture references in a way that is never overly hip or gratingly snappy. This is dangerous terrain, to be sure, but Tiny Furniture is a reminder that, if done appropriately, this genre can be artistically invigorating. It is the very real deal. (Read an interview with Dunham and see images from the production here.) (Available until February 17)

Cole [Have Not Seen Yet] (Available until December 15)

Leaving [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until January 21)

Cinemax on Demand

The Following Titles Are Recommended In Some Way, Shape or Form:

Bruno (Available until December 15)

Cassandra’s Dream (Available until December 15)

Crazy Heart (Available until December 15)

Half Baked (Available until December 15)

Panic Room (Available until December 15)

Stevie (Available until December 15)

The Informant! (Available until December 22)

Broadway Danny Rose (December 2-December 29)

Sugar (December 2-December 29)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (December 1-December 31)

Observe and Report (December 9-January 5)

Anaconda (December 16-January 12)

Stephen King’s Silver Bullet (December 16-January 19)

HBO on Demand

As usual, great original content is for the taking, including:

Boardwalk Empire

Bored To Death

In Treatment

As for movies:

Public Speaking (November 23-December 19)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (December 6-January 2)

A Serious Man (December 6-January 2)

Gentlemen Broncos (December 27-January 23)

Good Hair (December 20-January 16)

Sergio (December 27-January 23)

The Kid Stays in the Picture (December 13-January 9)

Tags:

Explore the Site.

HTN Tool Belt:

Leave a Reply