VOD REPORT

November 2010

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 — NOVEMBER 2010

Cinetic FilmBuff

*** Holy RollersOn paper, Holy Rollers sounds like one of those movies that could go wrong in so many different ways it doesn’t seem possible that it won’t. But from the very first frame of Kevin Asch’s debut feature, there’s a feeling in the air that this one just might be different. It is. Holy Rollers is an unexpected treat that rises above its superficial trappings thanks to assured filmmaking, a healthy dose of unforced humor, and a whole lot of actual heart. Read the rest of my review. (Available on iTunes, Xbox, and Playstation now, as well as on DVD)

** 11/4/08 — In the weeks leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, I received an email from Jeff Deutchman, who I first got to know through his job working in acquisitions at IFC Films. Sensing history was about to be made in a major way, Deutchman was sending out a plea to friends and filmmakers asking them to document the day of 11/4/08 in whatever way they deemed fit. Sixteen months later, the results of that call—labeled in the film’s opening title card as an act of “Consensual Cinema”—an 80-minute documentary, 11/4/08, was world premiering at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival. 11/4/08 is a truly provocative cinematic experiment, which promises to stir up conflicting emotions from one day to the next, depending on which way our government is currently blowing. Read my HTN conversation with Deutchman. (Available on iTunes, Playstation and Amazon VOD now)

*** MAKE-OUT with VIOLENCEThese guys didn’t ask permission. They just made a film they’d like to see, and now we get to watch it. They mix genres like a casserole, and they clearly have many more amazing films in them. From the first beautiful underwater shots to the inevitable fulfillment of the title’s promise, MOWV swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park. I’m glad the Deagols & company discovered this always-summertime-oh-maybe-there’s-a-zombie-over-there world. And I’m happy to know that I can visit it again and again whenever I want. I just hope I never have to ask any of them to babysit my pet rats. Read the rest of Craig Zobel’s essay (taken from the Factory 25 home video release), then check it out. (Now available through FilmBuff and Cable VOD, with iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix to come.)

Four Faced Liar [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available on Cable VOD and iTunes starting November 9)

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:

** 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 Hassidic Jew. 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 Blaxploitation hero Melvin Van Peebles. While the explicit stereotyping and over-the-top parody of The Hebrew Hammer 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. (Lauren Kinsler)

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

Choking Man [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

Still Showing:

*** XXY — Adolescence is a problematic enough time for females, whose bodies and attitudes are in a state of constant flux. In Lucia Puenzo’s XXY, the stakes are even higher, for fifteen-year-old Alex (Ines Efron) is facing a major dilemma: she was born intersex and needs to decide if she wants to undergo surgery to simplify her condition. At an age where life feels particularly complicated and dramatic, Alex is extraordinarily burdened. What makes XXY such an impressive debut is that, considering its subject matter, it can never be mistaken for a work of exploitation. It’s a tenderly wrought drama that uses an abnormal situation to explore the universal, end-of-the-world emotions spawned by adolescence. Read the rest of my review here.

** Wolves in the Snow — First time Director Michael Welterlin starts Wolves in the Snow with a literal bang. Lucie finds out her husband Antoine has been cheating on her for years and in a fit of rage kills him. While trying to cover up Antoine’s absence, Lucie falls into a dangerous world revealing her husband’s involvement with violent gangsters and money laundering. While the noir influenced drama kept my attention, Welterlin tries to accomplish a little too much at times. What he does do awesomely is create three-dimensional characters; the gangsters are emotional and flawed and the acting is superb. For a debut feature, Wolves in the Snow is quite impressive. (Lauren Kinsler)

*** All My Friends Are Funeral Singers — In this experimental, music-driven film, ghosts are the headliners. Zel is a fortuneteller and runs her business from her home with the help of her ghost roommates. A vaudeville band, a mute girl, a clown, a preacher, and a handful of others help Zel relieve her clients of their pain. Tim Rutili, who is also the front man of the band Califone, wrote the screenplay alongside the album of the same name and features the band’s beautiful music throughout the film. Zel is very successful in her work—helping a gambler win bets, and connecting a widow to her deceased husband. But it is very clear that her work relies on the ghosts’ special powers. When a bright light shines from the forest one day, drawing the ghosts to the windows, it opens their eyes to a world they didn’t know existed. This light and its pull bring up many questions and anxiety for the ghosts who start to question their place in Zel’s home. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is a beautiful journey through a strange world of characters and sounds that, if you have an open mind, is worth the taking. (Lauren Kinsler)

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

New:

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

Still Showing:

** The Hebrew Hammer — (see above)

Pulling John [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

* Hell On Wheels — I haven’t seen Drew Barrymore’s Whip It, but I have seen Bob Ray’s documentary about a group of bad-ass Texas women who set out to revive the spirit of the 1970s roller derby phenomenon. If you are in any way squeamish, be prepared to cover your face for one particularly disgusting ankle break. Otherwise, kick back and be glad you aren’t forced to battle these ladies on the track.

Toward Zero [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]

Gravitas Ventures

* Media Malpractice — The 2008 election will forever live among policy wonks and ardent supporters as some twisted take on A Tale of Two Cities; but like any good historical event, it’s nothing a few soundbites and jump cuts can’t re-edit. Media Malpractice boasts not one sub-hed (“How Obama got elected”), not just two (“and Sarah Palin was targeted”), but three whole descriptions in one title (“The Death Of Journalism”). Director/editor John Ziegler cuts his talking head fest from CNN, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, The View, Ken Jacobs’ pan-and-scan off websites, and occasionally has Jon Stewart pop up saying it’s okay to laugh at then-Senator Obama. It takes nearly a half-hour to recap November 2007 to June 2008 (out of 115 minutes) before we get the crux of Ziegler’s argument: the media like Barack Obama and were desperate to defend him from “the thunderbolt” (Ziegler’s own words) that is Sarah Palin. The two sole most interesting points about Media Malpractice come from a sit-down January 5, 2009 interview with Palin and Ziegler’s ever-so-brief dip into the error of polling systems circa 2008—especially since 2008 both have been reformed and revamped so much. The buried lede in Malpractice isn’t bias of our 24-hour news cycle that’s lead to sponsored rallies, but how in trying to find a casualty in someone like Palin only transformed her into the spokeswoman and iconic brand she is today while Barack Obama toils in actual political office. (Note: Ziegler’s 43-minute interview with Palin is not on the VOD version of Media Malpractice but is available on the DVD.) (John Lichman)

** Box Elder — Taking the time to delve into the intricacies of the film’s title as related to the subject matter is akin to questioning the motive behind naming Catfish: it’s far too much effort to waste on something inherently fun (I had to be told it was a Pavement song—I’m sorry, I was too busy growing up on Dismemberment Plan). Bros be bros in Box Elder and purely in the madcap way that makes a throwaway drunk line—“Potato vodka’s more expensive cuz it’s got potatoes in it instead of the other thing”—hilarious. The Bros have bro-mance issues and Bujalski/Byington-esque conversations as cuts leap from party to party to month to month; college is broken down into social interaction and blissful ignorance that comes to ahead at the end when a bearded and half-awake professor informs the student that college is over and you can’t slack off in the real world. It’s hard not to be charmed by the leads in Box Elder since there’s a strange mix of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with the type of edits that come from non-stop watching of Funny Ha-Ha. And finally: “Land of The Hot Knives” is the only Pavement song I know. (John Lichman)

** ExTerminators — The death knell of any quirky romantic comedy sounds when an opening monologue announces: “Let’s start at the beginning.” Yet that doesn’t stop this from being funny in the Sugar & Spice way: Alex (Heather Graham) is a meek woman in your mom’s jeans who is laid off and finds her singer-songwriter boyfriend is cheating on her (oh no’s). Cue a bit of retail therapy (literally, cued by a card she receives in the mail) and in her “anger” she punches a dude trying to buy a blouse. Thus, she’s sent to “anger therapy” where the film picks up further with the combination of Jennifer Coolidge and Amber Heard effectively stealing the film and “using their words.” In fact, ExTerminators is an exercise in your supporting cast (including Jeffrey Toobin and a random Joey Lauren Adams cameo) running with your film and making it funnier than it really should be. (John Lichman)

** Wasting Away/Ahh!! Zombies!! — Oh, zombies: the blank canvas for creativity (Make-Out With Violence) and general fucking around (Dead Girl, L.A. Zombie) when it comes to the discretion of writers and directors. The Brothers Kohnen (Matthew and Sean) bring us something that starts with a failed military experiment and abruptly shifts into a screwball comedy from the zombie’s point of view thanks to day-glo green ice cream. It’s a one-note joke, but played in such a way that it works for the entire film despite little gore (for a zombie flick). Highlights include subtle brain jokes, finding zombie utopia in the Inland Empire and shooting at the only decent Mexican place right next to Paramount Studios. (John Lichman)

* Brooklyn Rules — Set against the mean streets of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, we follow three mooks who mook around and aspire to escape from the mean streets of Brooklyn for the glamorous life in… Harlem? Basically, this is a generic mafioso film that features Alec Baldwin embracing his hambone and adding “Ceaser the Italian Gangster” to his list of roles with exaggerated accents. Baldwin even gets to reenact the opening of The Departed but in Bay Ridge instead of Williamsburg this time! Mocking aside, we get a great performance from the cast (Freddie Prinze Jr, Scott Caan, Jerry Ferrara—who can shockingly act when not on Entourage). Though really, where else will you hear Scott Caan speak truer words than, “Fuck Fred McMurray.” Indeed. (John Lichman)

2012 An Awakening — I’ll sum this up very briefly: the Mayans understood oil prices would become monumental enough to destabilize the world economy and this will happen in 2012 according to a number of British sounding men with varying degrees of baldness and questionable facial hair while our unmanned probes to Mars have caused global warming on Mars and aside from being amazing astronomers it turns out the Mayans were also fucking psychic about us sending unmanned probes to other planets. I mean, that’s the buried lede here in this documentary that sounds a lot like 2012, which featured John Cusack basically being like, “Fuck the Mayans, I’m on a boat.” I will side with Cusack on this one.

*** The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers — When Henry Kissinger says you’re the most dangerous man in America (in the sixties) there’s little else to say aside from your balls are equally gigantic. Of course, this is the real story behind one of the biggest government leaks ever and it’s almost hilarious at how newscasters reacted: stunned aplomb that someone could be “un-American” enough to reveal how the Vietnam war was started. Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith give the doc strong enough legs to walk us back to a simpler time, when the government really did want to kill you, as opposed to now when no one can agree on anything and let’s repeal health care and have heartfelt interviews with that ex-president who wrote a book! Yee haw! (John Lichman)

IFC In Theaters + On Demand

New:

*** 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 starting November 24)

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

Still Showing:

*** 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 — 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)

IFC Midnight

New:

??? 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: Willem Defoe is this guy when it comes time to make the biopic! (Available until March 3)

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

Still Showing:

Map of the Sounds of Tokyo [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 25)

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

** Red White & Blue — Seven 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)

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:

*** 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, that are more akin to reading a long, rewarding novel as opposed to watching a feature film. Now that it’s available, don’t let it pass you by. (Available starting November 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 (see above), 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 starting November 26)

Still Showing:

Colin Fitz Lives! [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 6)

Happy Ever Afters [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until December 1)

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

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

Cinemax on Demand

** Choke (October 28-November 24)

*** Miller’s Crossing (November 4-December 1)

*** The Kid Stays In The Picture (October 21-November 17)

** The Limits of Control (November 4-December 8)

*** The Wrestler (November 4-December 1)

Transamerica [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (November 4-December 1)

** Twelve Monkeys (October 28-November 24)

O [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (November 11-December 8)

** Solaris (November 11-December 8)

*** The Thing (October 28-November 24)

* Bruno (November 18-December 15)

** Cassandra’s Dream (November 18-December 15)

** Crazy Heart (November 18-December 15)

* Half Baked (November 18-December 15)

** Stevie (November 18-December 15)

** What About Bob? (November 11-November 30)

** The Informant! (November 25-December 22)

HBO on Demand

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

Eastbound and Down

Boardwalk Empire

Bored To Death

The Pacific

As For Movies:

*** 12th and Delaware (November 8-December 5)

Public Speaking [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (November 23-December 19)

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