BLOGS

Movies Without Pity

I Want My VOD: November 2013

by Ethan Alter November 6, 2013 10:42 am
I Want My VOD: November 2013

This is the way the world ends in How I Live Now: not with the Hunger Games, but a moody teenage girl.

How I Live Now
Departing from most YA post-apocalyptic fiction, Meg Rosoff's acclaimed novel How I Love Now does not feature a heroine who has to compete in some elaborate death sport in order to survive in a cold, uncaring future. Instead, Rosoff's tale is more in the vein of The Road, minus that story's rampant cannibalism and general bleakness. Likewise, Kevin Macdonald's movie version takes its cue less from The Hunger Games and more from Children of Men, unfolding in a near-future England that's two steps away from total chaos. It tips over into that chaos when a terrorist cell sets off a nuclear device, poisoning the water supply and reducing the Sceptered Isle to a lawless land where the military is just barely able to fend off armed groups of insurgents. Not that transplanted American Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) knows much about the larger political situation going on in the country she's been sent to visit by her remarried father. Living on an isolated farm with a gaggle of cousins she barely knows, she's removed from the tension and violence going on in London. That is, until the bomb goes off and spills out of the city and into the surrounding countryside, ruining her idyllic pastoral life and budding romance with the strapping Isaac (Tom Holland).

In short order, the parentless Daisy, Isaac and her two younger cousins are rounded up by the military and sent to separate holding pens, but not before the young lovers vow to find their way back home as soon as they can find an escape route. So with baby of the group, Piper (Harley Bird), in tow, Daisy grabs a pistol, a compass and as much food as she can carry and flees their benign prison for the comfort of the farmhouse they were taken from. Naturally, the road home is long and filled with peril, ranging from rape-happy groups of doomsday preppers to rivers filled with undrinkable water. Whenever she feels like giving up, though, visions of Isaac and her own sheer will to survive keep pushing her forward.

This is Ronan's second survival-in-the-wilderness tale, after Peter Weir's underappreciated escaped-POW World War II picture The Way Back from 2010. That movie was classical (and even a tad cheesy) in its form and content; it felt like a 1940s feature dropped down in the 21st century. How I Live Now aspires to be edgier and more up-to-the-minute, shot in a jagged, semi-documentary fashion and embracing the melodramatic angst raging inside of Daisy. It's all a little overwrought to be honest, with Macdonald unable to effectively modulate the movie's (to say nothing of Daisy's) mood swings. And while the apocalypse-adjacent approach is compelling at first -- the film's most effective section comes right after the bomb goes off and Daisy and her cousins experience the effect second-hand, with ash falling from the sky and the power flickering off -- the central journey lacks the urgency that drives Clive Owen's every step in Children of Men. (It goes without saying that Alfonso Cuarón's graceful, yet tension-filled long takes are missed as well.) It's a noble attempt to provide a real-world answer to The Hunger Games that kind of just makes you want to re-watch The Hunger Games.
(Available on iTunes and Magnolia on Demand, as well as in limited theatrical relese, starting November 8.)

Sunlight Jr.

In the tradition of '50s-era British kitchen sink miserablism comes Sunlight Jr. the sophomore feature from writer/director Laurie Collyer, whose debut, Sherrybaby, was a big downer as well. That film, at least, benefited from a strong star turn by Maggie Gyllenhaal as an ex-con trying to go straight well as an unexpectedly powerful dramatic performance from B-movie fixture, Danny Trejo. Sunlight Jr. finds Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon attempting to believably inhabit the dingy motel room of a lower, lower, lower working-class couple just trying to get by in the economic climate of contemporary America, but both actors just seem distinctly out of place in this setting. Watts plays Melissa, a wage slave at the convenience store at a local gas station managed by a boorish boss. While she's working the register all day, her partner Richie (Dillon) halfheartedly tries to find work -- a tall order considering that a construction-related accident has left him wheelchair bound -- but mostly gets by selling junk he finds and/or steals. Already facing a precarious economic situation, these two are confronted with the prospect of having another mouth to feed and body to clothe when Melissa learns that she's pregnant with Richie's baby. Initially excited about the idea of becoming parents, once the reality of their situation sinks in, the idea of adding to their household doesn't just seem like a challenge... it's downright impossible. As in Sherrybabybelong in this milieu; it's like watching two tourists taking a guided tour of a new country, all too aware that they get to return home at the end of the trip.


Charlie Countryman
Remember when Shia LaBeouf was a rising young talent with charisma and charm to burn? Unfortunately, Michael Bay got his hands on him and LaBeouf... um, transformed into an obnoxious action star, whose main skill was running away from all the fisticuffs and firepower happening around him. Even LaBeouf seemed to resent what he was becoming and he's carrid that chip on his shoulder into his post-Transformers performances, not to mention his public persona. Charlie Countryman finds a relentlessly glum and dour LaBeouf (to be fair, the character does have reason to be glum, with his mother having just died and all) visiting Romania on a whim, where he gets caught up in a so-complex-it's-practically-nonsensical plot involving the hot wife (Evan Rachel Wood) of a crime boss (Mads Mikkelsen) and messing around with a pair of party dudes played by Rupert Grint and James Buckley. The backdrop is exotic, but what's happening in front of it is pure dullsville.


The Last Days on Mars
To celebrate the impending 25th anniversary of Ridley Scott's genre classic Alien, a trio of filmmakers apparently got together and decided to make three different claustrophobic, low-budget space thrillers about a crew of astronauts decimated by a violence-prone (but not penis-headed) extraterrestrial. Sebastián Cordero's Europa Report was up first, followed by Roger Christian's Stranded and now here comes Ruairi Robinson's The Last Days on Mars, in which the valiant men and women of a Mars expedition go head-to-head with… space zombies. The road to joining the gravity-defying dead begins when one of the scientists discovers what might be signs of life just below the planet's surface. But wouldn't you know it? Those biological elements also happen to transform ordinary humans into -- say it with me now -- space zombies, forcing the rest of the crew (whose ranks include such overqualified actors as Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai and Olivia Williams) to fend them off, until inevitably getting infected themselves. This out-there premise has the potential to be fun, but Robinson -- clearly in thrall to Scott's austere sci-fi classic -- denies audiences that fun at every opportunity. While Alien is somber and self-serious, though, it's also a master class in building and sustaining tension, not to mention a showcase for the terrific performances of Sigourney Weaver and Ian Holm. Mars, on the other hand, is somber and somnambulant and none of the actors are given anything to work with that would leave an impression. Hey, you know what the best way to mark Alien's 25th anniversary would be? Re-release the original in theaters.
(Currently available on iTunes, Magnolia on Demand and opens in limited release on December 6.)


Dear Mr. Watterson
You don't need a feature-length documentary to tell you about the enduring brilliance of Bill Watterson's beloved Calvin & Hobbes comic strip; almost 20 years after it ran its last strip, the wit and wisdom contained in Watterson's panels is still there on the page. Furthermore, Watterson himself contributed several forwards to the various collector's editions that have been published over the years that shed fascinating light on his creative process and concerns (particularly in regards to the issue of licensing, something he was adamantly opposed to despite the money he would have earned). So absent any new information or revelations, either from the reclusive artist himself or other sources, a documentary doesn't have a lot of blanks to fill in. And that's the central problem with Joel Allen Schroeder's affectionate, but slight retrospective look back at Calvin & Hobbes. Watterson himself was not pursued for an interview (out of respect for his desire for privacy), and while the director assembled a strong roster of talking heads in his stead -- including Watterson's contemporaries like Berkeley Breathed, various industry professionals and famous fans like Seth Green -- they don't offer much in the way of new insights into Watterson's methods or the reasons for the strip's broad appeal. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that Schroder can't bring himself to really be critical of Watterson or Calvin for that matter. Granted, it's hard to imagine what one might want to criticize about the strip, but that debate would at least give the too-sedate Dear Mr. Watterson some charge. As it is, the film is basically preaching to the choir, boasting of the comic's greatness to viewers who already know that it's great.
(Available on VOD and in limited theatrical release starting November 15.)

Underdogs
In a world where five seasons (and an earlier movie) of Friday Night Lights exist, every other football drama has to run extra suicide drills to measure up. And the low-budget sports picture Underdogs barely even makes it to the field. Loosely based on a true story, the film's titular crew of underdogs attend a Catholic high-school in small-town Ohio that has seen better days. Fortunately, the arrival of new coach Vince DeAntonio (D.B. Sweeney) shakes up the status quo, as he drafts a new QB, Bobby Burkett, (Logan Huffman) who turns around the team's losing streak. Meanwhile, Bobby's inventor father finds himself targeted by his boss -- the owner of the town's factory, which is its main source of employment -- after selling the design for a new space heater to a competitor after his current company rejects it. Not only that, but that boss is the father of the ace QB on the town's other football team, who is dating the pretty cheerleader that Bobby has feelings for. Obviously, the two players are destined to meet on the field and settle their differences, with the audiences sympathies clearly directed towards the Davids rather than the Goliath. Not actively awful, but never anything less than wholly generic (even a cameo by Joe Namath as himself is completely forgettable), Underdogs is strictly JV to FNL's varsity plays.
(Currently available on most OnDemand platforms.)


Plush
Ten years after her breakout movie, Thirteen (and five years after ditching the Twilight franchise), Catherine Hardwicke revisits the premise of a previously stable young woman experiencing an emotional breakdown. Granted, rock star Hayley (Emily Browning) is a tad older than the 13-year-olds played by Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed, but she repeats some of their same mistakes and subsequently faces some of the same consequences. Following the death her brother and creative partner, Hayley tries to hit the road on her own as a solo artist, but encounters skepticism from both critics and her previous fanbase. It's only when she partners with her sibling's replacement in the band, a creepily intense guitarist named Enzo (Xavier Samuel), that she recovers some of her old creative mojo. That artistic partnership quickly leads them into the bedroom, despite Hayley having a husband (Cam Gigandet) and two kids at home. Once the tour wraps, she expects the affair to end as well, but Enzo isn't about to let her go that easily, ingratiating himself into her family over her strenuous objections, turning the movie into Single White Guitarist crossed with Unlawful Entry. Never a subtle director, Hardwicke plays the material in full-on hothouse melodrama mode, turning up the florid visual style and bodice-ripping sexuality to 11. It's good ol' campy entertainment for a little while, at least until it becomes wearying in the last half, with a storyline that becomes increasingly hallucinatory, but one that we're apparently supposed to accept at face value. It's pretty to look at, but also pretty dumb.
(Currently available through most OnDemand services.)


Also on VOD:
Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts play nervous new parents in Sunlight Jr.. A pair of nightclub owners make the boneheaded decision of getting involved in a drug deal for some extra scratch and suffer the consequences in the French thriller, Paris Countdown. And the Kevin Smith Movie Club offers another ramshackle comedy, the '80s rock and roll flick Losers Take All.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

16 ENTRIES

February 2014

22 ENTRIES

January 2014

21 ENTRIES

December 2013

25 ENTRIES

November 2013

21 ENTRIES

October 2013

26 ENTRIES

September 2013

16 ENTRIES

August 2013

22 ENTRIES

July 2013

22 ENTRIES

June 2013

21 ENTRIES

May 2013

22 ENTRIES

April 2013

19 ENTRIES

March 2013

28 ENTRIES

February 2013

16 ENTRIES

January 2013

16 ENTRIES

December 2012

21 ENTRIES

November 2012

19 ENTRIES

October 2012

20 ENTRIES

September 2012

19 ENTRIES

August 2012

19 ENTRIES

July 2012

17 ENTRIES

June 2012

24 ENTRIES

May 2012

21 ENTRIES

April 2012

22 ENTRIES

March 2012

26 ENTRIES

February 2012

25 ENTRIES

January 2012

25 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP