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I Want My VOD: December 2013

by Ethan Alter December 18, 2013 11:22 am
I Want My VOD: December 2013

Men hating women? Oh, it's just another Neil LaBute film.

Some Velvet Morning
A two-person chamber piece from Neil LaBute, Some Velvet Morning traps audiences in a handsome New York City townhouse with only Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve for company. The unlikely duo play a married man and his ex-mistress respectively and on this lovely morning, the man has turned up on said ex-mistress's doorstep to announced that he's at last ditched his wife and family for her. Rather than leap into his arms, she seems barely interested in being in the same room as the guy and, indeed, regularly moves about the house in a vain attempt to sneak out to a previously scheduled date. This being a LaBute script, there are lots of frank discussions of each other's failings, not to mention a sadomasochistic streak in the way Tucci comes on to Eve. (There's also the obligatory fake-out ending that's meant to turn everything we've just witnessed on its head, but mainly just feels like a cheat.) Although the two actors do their best with the material they've been given, in LaBute's increasingly tired battle of the sexes, the loser remains the audience.
(Some Velvet Morning is currently available via Tribeca Films on Demand)

Away From Here
File this low-key drama in the "sex offenders are people too" folder occupied by the Kevin Bacon picture The Woodsman… and not much else. Nick Stahl plays James, a youth minister who, in a moment of weakness, slept with one of the 15-year-old girls in his congregation and served a stint in prison after her preacher father (Ray Wise) discovered the affair. Newly sprung from jail, James returns to town and takes one of the few jobs available to him: dishwasher at a local diner. His brooding good looks and quiet demeanor catch the eye of unlucky-in-love waitress Lily (Alicia Witt) and romance blooms, at least until James's past inevitably catches up with him. Though not an explicitly religious film, the themes of faith and forgiveness are bound up in the story and that, by itself, isn't a bad thing. What's less excusable, though, is the way the film comes perilously close to positioning James as an innocent victim used and abused by a fickle teenager, who now feels really, really bad about the whole thing and continually shows up to apologize to the guy who, let's not forget, took advantage of her naïveté as well. Away From Here deserves credit for attempting to tackle challenging subject matter, but it's a shame it does so in such a simplistic way.
(Away From Here is currently available via iTunes and most OnDemand platforms.)

S#X Acts
Israel gets its own version of Larry Clarke's Kids with this compelling, if somewhat hyperbolic, drama that purports to provide an authentic window into the amoral, hedonistic existences of contemporary suburban teenagers. Desperate to join the cool kids club at her new high school, social climber Gili (Sivan Levy) lets it be known to her class's reigning jocks that she's up for anything... and she does mean anything. So over the course of a few weeks, she's passed off from one boy to another, each one expecting her to perform increasingly outré acts to satiate their own curiosity and horniness. And while Gili does secure a spot invite list to all the hot parties as a result of her choices, she's never truly one of the cool kids... something that she seems blissfully (or willfully) unaware of. Screenwriter Rona Segal and director Jonathan Gurfinkel have an eye and an ear for the way teenager communicate and the film effectively captures the shifting dynamics and alliances within the jungle that is high school. But, much like Kids before it, S#x Acts almost seems directed at parents rather than teens, intending to freak them out about the things their own kids might be doing in pursuit of popularity. Too often it falls on the side of exploiting its characters in the name of sensationalism rather than trying to understand them.
(S#x Acts is currently available via Tribeca Films on Demand)

Beyond Outrage
Takeshi Kitano's umpteenth yakuza film (which, once again, he directs and stars in) unfolds as a series of short, sharp shocks… in the form of gunshots to the head, belly and other places. A police-led crackdown on gangster activity results in an all-out turf war between rival clans, with casualties ranging from low-level enforcers to top gang leaders. Keeping track of all the players in this sordid game is next to impossible, but don't worry because most of them perish almost as quickly as they're introduced. More than anything, Beyond Outrage brings to mind Alan Clarke's pioneering short film Elephant, a 40-minute assemblage of assassins shooting their apparent victims (the movie was inspired by the violence roiling Northern Ireland in the '80s), unfolding in near-silence except for the ringing sound of gunshots. Kitano has padded that conceit out to feature length and added dialogue, but the structure and seeming intent remains the same: as we watch this parade of men die in violent ways, the main thought that springs to mind is, "What a waste."
(Beyond Outrage is currently available via Magnolia on Demand)

What's In a Name?
Don't get too excited by the jazzy opening to this French comedy, which mimics Amélie's narrative and formal whimsy as it follows a pizza delivery guy on a run that sends him to the wrong address. As it turns out, that guy is not the subject of the film. Instead, it's the people to whom he mistakenly delivers the pizza, married couple Elisabeth (Valérie Benguigui) and Pierre (Charles Berling), who are hosting a five-person dinner party that evening. Once we're inside their apartment, we stay there for the rest of the runtime as this supposedly light and fun affair descends into recriminations and petty arguments. The instigator for this switch into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf territory new father Vincent (Patrick Bruel), who proclaims that he's going to gift his soon-to-be-born son with a name that sounds a lot like a certain warmongering German dictator. That announcement goes over about as well as you'd imagine and, in no time, these supposedly enlightened intellectuals are at each other's throats (verbally at least… they're much for fisticuffs). Albee this ain't, but it's reasonably entertaining for awhile before it succumbs to a sentimental finish that doesn't feel earned.
(What's In a Name? is currently available on most OnDemand platforms.)

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