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House of Pleasures (Sundance Selects) — House of Pleasures is lush and languid to the point of creating something like an opium-induced dream state from which neither it nor the viewer ever fully awakens, but it’s also quite remarkable for the way it manages to alarm without resorting to hyperbole. What is perhaps strangest, most unexpected, and, thanks to a brief but unnecessary coda, essentially inarguable is that all this is in effect a scented love letter to the brothel. Though far from ideal, the women’s shared lot is just that: something of their own, something that unites them. That this comes at the expense of their connection to the outside world and potentially their health is a price all involved seem willing to pay. The only male characters are clients ranging from the oddly benign to the startlingly malicious. They exist not just as foils to their more levelheaded female counterparts but also as a sign of what awaits these women should they ever graduate from L’Apollonide and work on their own: the same danger that makes its way inside, sans the camaraderie. C’est la vie. Read Michael Nordine’s full HTN review. (Available on Cable VOD and at Sundance Now)


The Catechism Cataclysm (IFC Midnight) — At the heart of Todd Rohal’s work is a very basic concept lost on today’s major theatrical audience who are hypnotized by the tired routine of familiar narrative structure. It’s so simple that it could be lost in the ether of the week’s releases comprised of cults and the continued ascension of the Catfish crew, but I’ll lay it out: Anything Goes. It’s a mindset that will definitely help you take on The Catechism Cataclysm, which is equally about God, storytelling, instrumental trance music, literature, race, the Internet, growing up, rejection, drinking beer and, ultimately, dealing with the absence of hope when your sister’s ex-boyfriend from high school is reincarnated for a brief second before God performs the equivalent of stating, “LOL! J/k.” Read the rest of John Lichman’s HTN review, as well as our HTN conversation Rohal. (Available on Cable VOD)

Daylight (Cinema Purgatorio) — Filmmaker David Barker’s chamber thriller has the feel of a 1990s American indie mixed with the philoso-force of a European auteur (I’m thinking most directly of Michael Haneke here). (Available through AT&T, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, xFinity, Amazon Video, iTunes, Blockbuster on Demand, CinemaNow, PlayStation, VUDU, xBox, Zune)

I Am (Gravitas Ventures) — Bear with me while you roll your eyes at the score. The story behind I Am is interesting enough: Tom Shadyac, famed auteur of Liar Liar and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, has a moral and spiritual breakdown after his last film (coincidentally Evan Almighty) coincided with a nasty bike accident. Feeling the weight of mortality on his shoulders, he goes off on a quest with camera to find out how we can make the world a better place. It’s a collection of talking heads (Howard Zinn! Desmond Tutu! Jim Carrey…?) about what we, as a species, can do to improve the lives of everyone. Is it religion? Inherent goodness? Sure! Shadyac’s got his mind set on how we should be living: modestly and with concern for others. Two years ago, most folks would laugh that this sentiment was coming from the guy who force-fed us Robin Williams in a clown nose. But these days? The sentiment’s looking pretty damn good when folks are camping out in parks, lining up for work and watching their lives crumble around them. (JL) (Available on Cable VOD)

The Innkeepers (Magnet Releasing) — It’s virtually impossible not to compare Ti West’s follow-up to The House of The Devil—particularly if you found that film to be as masterfully executed as yours truly did—but in this case, I was able to check my expectations at the door and appreciate West’s latest as the fun ride that it is. At 100 minutes, West certainly pushes the boundaries of how many slowwww walkssss downnnnn hallwayssss weeee neeedddd tooooo geetttt theeeee pointtttt acrosssss, and many less patient viewers will undoubtedly check out. But what I find to be so exhilarating about an effort like this is how West updates the old-school haunted house movie for the modern generation—both Pat Healy and Sara Paxton are great at conveying the soul-sucking, time-numbing burden of service jobs like these. He also infuses the film with a genuine sense of humor. West’s recent films are in many ways intellectual filmmaking exercises, but his command of the craft and childlike enthusiasm for the visceral thrills inherent in his genre of choice help them to succeed as popcorn entertainment. (Available on Cable VOD starting 12/30)

The Off Hours (Film Movement) — Megan Griffiths’s years-in-the-making feature definitely teeters on the brink of becoming overly precious, but it never tumbles into that danger zone because Griffiths exhibits an assured directorial control over every element. Director of photography Ben Kasulke (nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his work here) refreshingly abandons the off-the-cuff tendencies of so many of his recent micro-budget collaborations, and it is this controlled, classic, rich approach to framing that further elevates the production. There’s been a lot written about Elizabeth Olsen and Brit Marling as being the breakout actresses of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, but Amy Seimetz deserved to join the conversation based on her achingly honest performance here. In lesser hands, this role would have felt thin and unlived in, but Seimetz brings a depth to her character that gives The Off Hours an injection of actual heart. (Available on Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Bresnan, RCN, Brighthouse, etc.)

One Hundred Mornings (Binder Films) — Conor Horgan, a well regarded Irish photographer and commercial director, has made a fourth feature film that makes big-budget, civilization-wide disaster movies like The Book of Eli and 2012 pale in comparison; it provides emotional multitudes where those films supply plot points and CGI spectacles of collapsing metropolises. Everything about Horgan’s way of detailing the effects—physical, societal and psychological—of whatever catastrophe has taken place feels like a breath of alarmingly plausible, startlingly fresh air. A gorgeously photographed, delicately paced glimpse at the harrowing emotional difficulties of a pair of couples stranded in the Irish countryside after some unnamed event has caused civilization to at least partially collapse, One Hundred Mornings is an insidiously intelligent post-apocalyptic drama, as achingly humane and stringently observed in its own quiet way as Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf. Read the rest of Brandon Harris’ HTN review. (Available through Cable On Demand)

Senna (Film Buff) — I don’t like auto racing. At all. Which is why Senna, a look at the career of Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, was the biggest surprise of Sundance. The film, which is comprised exclusively of archival footage of Senna’s life on and off the track, has it all; a hero, a villain, triumph, tragedy, redemption and a constant parade of visual thrills, including a lot of first person camera work from the driver’s seat of Senna’s car has he flies around the world’s most prestigious Formula One tracks. Senna is thrilling and contemplative all at once, everything you could want in a non-fiction film. (Tom Hall) (Available on iTunes)

Surrogate Valentine (Warner Bros.) — Dave Boyle’s third feature is a comedy, like his previous film, the 2009 crowd-pleaser White On Rice. But where WOR was a sharp blast of laughing gas, Surrogate Valentine is a mellow buzz that steals up on you slowly. There’s a gently lulling rhythm to the storytelling; scenes unfold with a looseness that feels semi-improvised. This mood fits with the energy level of the main character, who is also the movie’s co-writer (with Boyle and Joel Clark), the talented San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura. Playing himself or a version thereof in his feature-film debut, Nakamura isn’t an obvious choice for what’s essentially a romantic lead part—soft-bodied and moon-faced, he’s likable enough but doesn’t project much presence until he picks up a guitar and sings, which he does with grace and wit and leisurely command. Read Nelson Kim’s full HTN review. (Available through AT&T Cable, Cablevision, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox, DirectTV VOD, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, XFinity Comcast [Select Markets], Amazon Video on Demand, Apple iTunes, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, Playstation VOD, Vudu, Xbox, Youtube VOD)

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Michael Tully was born and raised in Maryland and now lives on Tennis Court in Brooklyn. His most recent narrative feature, Septien, world-premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by Sundance Selects. In addition to directing Cocaine Angel (2006) and Silver Jew (2007), he is also a proud alumni of Filmmaker Magazine's annual "25 New Faces of Independent Film" club (2006). Visit his indieWIRE blog Boredom at its Boredest——for more sporadic personal updates.

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