Note: This month, we welcome contributing watcher/writer John Lichman into the fold—hooray!—to not only take the pressure off your overburdened head writer/editor, but to bring some linguistic variety to the table. Hopefully in the future our contributor horizons will only continue to widen.
— 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 – SEPTEMBER 2010
Cemetary Junction — The latest feature film from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is a period piece set in the ’70s starring Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Matthew Goode, and many more. Though it didn’t receive a proper theatrical release, it can’t be all that bad, can it? Guess there’s only one way to find out. (Available on Cable VOD beginning September 1)
Ajami — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available on iTunes, Sony Playstation 8/24 and Cable VOD beginning August 30)
*** The Sun — Alexander Sokurov concludes his trilogy about famous historical figures reaching a monumental crossroads (it was Hitler in Moloch and Lenin in Taurus) with this eerie, dreamlike glimpse into Emperor Hirohito’s final days of power in WWII. What struck me most about The Sun wasn’t the apocalyptic atmosphere or even Issey Ogata’s great performance. It was the unexpected undercurrent of humor that only enhanced the quietly overwhelming air of sadness and loss. I imagine Sokurov’s warm and tender treatment of Hirohito will offend some, but for me, it’s a lovely requiem for a figure who understands that the time has come to join his fellow countrymen back on ordinary ground. (Available on Cable VOD)
Also, be sure to visit the FilmBuff website for a full listing of available titles, as there are many for the taking.
The following titles are available on Movies on Demand on Time Warner, Comcast, RCN, Brighthouse, and Cox Cable systems nationwide:
Pulling John — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Towards Zero — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Ben X — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Morlang — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
1981 — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Nurse.Fighter.Boy — [Have Not Seen Yet But Really Wanna]
The Man Of the Year — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
The Rage In Placid Lake — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Bomber — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
*** Alamar — This breathtaking little gem of a movie is executed with such seeming effortlessness, I was fully convinced I was watching a documentary the whole way through. While it might be lazy—and not entirely accurate—to call it Malickian, Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio shows a similar reverence for nature that isn’t overly simplistic and hippified. It’s a touching story of a young boy and his father spending time in Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro coral reef, fishing and existing meal-to-meal, day-to-day, with their father/grandfather, before the child leaves his father behind once and for all to go live with his mother in Italy. This magical world is a pleasant reminder that industrialization hasn’t steamrolled its way into every corner of the world (not yet, at least). And when it’s time for the little one to leave that paradise behind, Gonzalez-Rubio doesn’t provide an obnoxiously loud contrast between the sea and the city. Back on land, in this more developed Italian setting, the beautiful memories of that quiet life linger. To paraphrase my smarter-than-I girlfriend, Alamar isn’t just a profoundly touching metaphor for parenthood in general; it’s like watching a father’s gorgeous dream in which he basks fully in the love of his child. It would have to be a seriously triumphant year if, at the end of 2010, Alamar doesn’t make my overall Top 10 list.
Jaffa — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
The following titles are available on Movies on Demand on Verizon Fios & Charter Cable systems nationwide:
* 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.
Towards Zero [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
*** Alamar (see above)
*** Children Of Invention — Tze Chun’s finely crafted drama deals with familial bonds and how outside circumstances can weigh so heavily on certain situations it’s a wonder they don’t snap in half. Children of Invention is an accomplished feature-length debut that deserves to be reach as wide an audience as possible. Hopefully now it will. (Read my full review and visit the film’s official website to purchase a DVD.)
* Entre Nos — Largely based on the immigration story of co-director-co-writer Paola Mendoza’s mother, Entre Nos is shot in fairly standard American indie style, on locations with mostly non-actors in Jackson Heights, Queens. The performances of Mendoza and the children, Sebastian Villada Lopez and Laura Montana Cortez, are what give this sneakily powerful film its weight. (Note: this capsule is updated from a Brandon Harris post written during 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.) Visit the film’s official website to learn more.
Storm [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
Also, don’t forget to check out Film Movement’s Film Festival On Demand channel for more options.
** Calvin Marshall — Gary Lundgren’s Calvin Marshall is not one of those movies that is going to rock your world. It’s a story that has been told many times before, and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But for those viewers who realize this was never Lundgren’s intention and who understand that it’s hard enough these days to discover a low-budget independent drama rooted in an earlier era that succeeds in the most important ways—writing, directing, acting—it will more than do the trick. Read my full review, then check it out—especially if you like baseball.
** The Lottery — Madeleine Sackler’s documentary about the hot-button issue of charter schools in New York City, and Harlem in particular, is a guaranteed fire-starter. While it does play like an advertisement for charter schools at times, it also pinpoints just how complicated and muddy this situation is. Beautifully shot by Wolfgang Held and scored by TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Gerard Smith, The Lottery is an important contribution to this ongoing debate.
** The End: British Gangsters — The emergence of the “cockney gangster” trend gave us Brad Pitt speaking gibberish and Jason Statham as a genre megastar. Luckily, Nicola Collins was born into this—literally—as she explores what makes the characters that Guy Ritchie flirts with into a grim reality. Shooting in black-and-white, Collins turns the camera on her father, Les Falco, and his cohorts. As they explain the fate of those who were born into the East End of London before becoming (among other things) a “villain,” a fight promoter, and an “insurance salesman,” they generally sound hurt by the moniker of gangster, as if they’re the bad guys. But Collins keeps everything slick and grainy as her subjects quietly discuss violence and sound genuinely dismayed that they’re considered anything but just citizens. (John Lichman)
* Paul McCartney is Really Dead — Paul McCartney is really dead, William Campbell is the “Faul” McCartney responsible for Wings and George Harrison decided to reveal this into a series of mini-cassettes (two!) before sending it off to production house Highway 61 to make this tell-all faux-ture film. In this world, McCartney died and MI:5, fearing mass suicide from The Beatles fans, placed a “False Paul” into the group. It’s hard not to be amused by this Behind The Music/conspiracy theory mash-up that evokes an earnestly serious mockumentary like William Karel’s Dark Side of the Moon. Of course, all the conspiracy theories become true: Rubber Soul was due to the fake McCartney’s plastic surgery, Apple Records’ original name was “Apaul” and then they kept trying to kill the fake Paul on all the albums. This is the film that justifies smoking a ton of pot with your friends in high school and debating Beatles myths—not that I ever did, man. (JL)
*** 9th Company — Big-budget war films can be hit or miss and yet 9th Company’s best strength is taking the tropes set by Platoon and Full Metal Jacket into their proper gun-metal glory. Following the titular squad to Afghanistan in 1998, the normal course is set until the group’s bloody final stand against oncoming waves of Mujahideen. It somehow seems fitting that director Fyodor Bondarchuk is the son of Sergei Bondarchuk (director of War and Peace), as if father and son both share this glorification of the Russian army. And you do want to see this, if only for one of the more alluring shots of a Drill Sergeant having a personal moment in a field of flowers. If that doesn’t do it for you, there are incredibly competent explosions and this film is officially endorsed by Vladimir Putin. (JL)
Heartbreaker — [Have Not Seen Yet But Really Wanna] (Available beginning September 22)
** Enter the Void — When it comes to Gaspar Noe films, a star rating system doesn’t really apply. I’m giving this two because it deserves *** for the filmmaking virtuosity on display and * (or should I say none) for what felt to me like its juvenile stoner philosophical content. But it’s a ride, no doubt about it. (Available starting September 24)
** Valhalla Rising — Walking out of Valhalla Rising, it struck me: Nicolas Winding Refn, Lars von Trier, and Gaspar Noe really need to get it over with and start their own European Auteurs Fight Club. While I knew full well what I was getting into with this thing, Refn still managed to outdo himself. Which is to say that he almost went too bloody far. While Refn’s Nordic death march starts with a genuine bang—and by “bang” I mean a huge title card reading “NICOLAS WINDING REFN PRESENTS”—by the time the third act rolls around and he starts resorting almost exclusively to super-slow-motion, it borders on self-parody (I’ve heard that if you play Valhalla Rising on 45rpm, it’s actually only eleven minutes long). Midway through the film, I started jotting down a list of my own alternate titles: Severed Bronson, Lord of the Nords, Legends of the Fjord, and my own personal favorite: Heart (Pulled Out of Chest) Of Darkness. To be honest, I still think Melissa Auf der Mar and Tony Stone’s Out of Our Minds is a more genuinely butt-kicking experience, but that film doesn’t have the commanding presence of Mads Mikkelsen. (Note: this is a slightly reworked version of my initial reaction to this film when I saw it at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.) (Available until October 16)
* The Killer Inside Me — I’m still not sure what I think of Michael Winterbottom’s controversial adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic 1952 novel. Especially since I didn’t read said novel until directly after watching the movie (note to self: that was probably a bad idea). I will say that when taking the book into account, the excessive pummeling of Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) by the story’s psychotic protagonist, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), seems appropriate. But as often happens in these types of translations, a hefty amount of the character’s interior dialogue is left on the cutting room floor, leaving him more two-dimensional than he is on the page (though Affleck is once again ace here). Having said that, I doubt most late-night channel scanners will be wondering if this is “an accomplished adaptation” or not. I have a strong hunch that this will be, without question, June’s most successful new VOD release. Why? It might have something to do with the tags “Strong Sexual Content” and “Jessica Alba” in the film description. That’s just a hunch, though. Visit the film’s official website to learn more. (Available until ???)
Change of Plans — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 27)
Cairo Time — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 6)
Soul Kitchen — [Have Not Seen Yet But Really, Really Wanna] (Available until November 18)
Making Plans For Lena — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 13)
Map of the Sounds of Tokyo — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 25)
* Red White & Blue — Six months after having seen it, I’m even less sure how I feel about Simon Rumley’s punishing Red, White & Blue, which recalls Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms in more ways than one. 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 starting September 22)
Macho — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available starting September 15)
Primal — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available starting September 22)
Don’t Look Back — If you’ve seen actress-turned-auteur Marina de Van’s In My Skin, you know that homegirl has a seriously twisted vision. Which is what makes Don’t Look Back so surprising. While there is certainly deviousness on display here, de Van’s film plays more like a Hollywood thriller than the scuzzier film one might have been expecting. Which is fine. Just maybe not great. Still, if you’re into psycho-dramas like Don’t Look Now and Antichrist and Cache and enjoy looking at the faces of Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci, you could certainly do worse than this rent this film. (Available until September 23)
The Horde — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 11)
Vengeance — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until ???)
Bunny and The Bull — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until October 7)
Other Recommended Titles:
The Overbrook Brothers
Night And Day
I’m Gonna Explode
Medicine For Melancholy
Freakonomics — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available On Demand starting September 3)
***Note: I am having problems figuring out the VOD holdover situation for recently released Magnolia titles. Will try to figure this out in future reports, but for now, perhaps just visit their site (link above), spot a film you wanna watch, and see if it’s available for download at Amazon or iTunes or Direct TV or Playstation or Xbox Live or Vudu or etc.***
Happy Ever Afters — [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until December 1)
Cole — [Have Not Seen Yet] (Available starting September 15)
*** Johnny Mad Dog — This disturbingly visceral movie recreates, with terrifying immediacy, the Liberian war in which child soldiers wreaked havoc on citizens everywhere. Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, who must be borderline insane, cast actual former child soldiers to reenact their country’s darkest days. Not for the faint of heart, but an undeniably striking work nonetheless. (Available until October 21)
* Sorry, Thanks — Dia Sokol’s Sorry, Thanks has all the pleasures of the [Mumblecore] “genre”: wince-worthy awkwardness; a loving eye cast on the mundane and aimless; freckled, chubby people you could easily know. But the film avoids the pitfalls that make films like Funny Ha Ha and Kissing on the Mouth obtuse to the average cinema-goer. Someone whose tastes don’t lean toward the indie can clearly recognize Sorry, Thanks as a real live movie: the sound is clear, the image is steady and the plot is tight. (Read the rest of Lena Dunham’s review here.)
Colin Fitz Lives! [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (Available until November 6)
White Lightnin’ [Have Not Seen Yet But Really Wanna]
No One Knows About Persian Cats [Have Not Seen Yet But Really Wanna]
A New Protocol [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna]
*** Chinatown (September 9-October 6)
** Observe and Report (Available until September 15)
* Sleep Dealer (September 9-September 29)
Adam [Have Not Seen Yet But Wanna] (September 16-October 13)
** Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (September 6-October 3)
Also, be very sure to take advantage of all of HBO’s great original programming by looking over this schedule.
— Michael Tully