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Movies Without Pity

I Want My VOD: February 2014

by Ethan Alter February 10, 2014 6:00 am
I Want My VOD: February 2014

Fran Kranz and Dichen Lachman venture beyond the valley of the Dollhouse in the VOD feature, Lust for Love.

Lust for Love
Any indie filmmaker worth his salt knows that he or she needs a hook to make their micro-budgeted romantic comedy about unlucky-in-love white hipsters stand out from the crowd of other micro-budgeted romantic comedies about unlucky-in-love white hipsters. So kudos to Anton King for finding a surefire way to give his feature filmmaking debut some heat: he's reunited the cast of Joss Whedon's short-lived cult sensation Dollhouse. Not Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix or Olivia Williams obviously, but fan-favorite supporting players like Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Miracle Laurie and Enver Gjokaj. Kranz and Lachman (who also produced) take center stage, with the former playing a lovestruck Angeleno who connects with Lachman's female Cyrano -- who happens to be the ex-best friend of his ex-girlfriend -- for a crash course in the art of wooing the opposite sex, hoping against hope that he'll be able to tempt his gal pal back from her new flame (Gjokaj). For anyone unfamiliar with Dollhouse (which is a majority of the U.S. moviegoing population), this scenario will likely come across as the middling rom-com fare it is. But for the show's fan base, there's a certain pleasure to be had in watching Priya teach Topher how to be a playa.
(Currently available on iTunes and most VOD platforms)

Nurse 3D
The most unbelievable thing about this tarted-up piece of grindhouse garbage (that's a compliment, by the way) isn't the premise of a lusty, bloodthirsty nurse punishing married men for their adulterous transgressions by screwing them twice… first through sex and then through murder. It's the fact that the aforementioned nurse is played by Paz de la Huerta, an "actress" of such uncommon appearance and demeanor, you'd kinda have to have a death wish to willingly go home with her in the first place. Fortunately, co-writer/director Douglas Aarniokoski is well-aware of what a space case his leading lady is and works around that, allowing de la Huerta to play it straight while the movie relentlessly winks in her general direction. The nominal plot of Nurse 3D involves the ex-Boardwalk Empire star's obsession with a new nurse on the job (Katrina Bowden, who also acts like she's not in on the joke) , which initially leads her to try and tempt her crush away from her studly paramedic boyfriend (Corbin Bleu) before she decides that if she can't have this blonde beauty, no one will. But really, the point -- and appeal -- of the movie is replicating the sleaze of vintage exploitation movies in slicker, 3D enhanced packaging. To that end, Aarniokoski cheekily teases skin and gore, indulges in goofy dialogue and choreographs the bloodshed with efficiency, though he lacks the grand showmanship of Quentin Tarantino or even Robert Rodriguez. It's a movie that good-naturedly sets out to appeal to the lowest common denominator and hits that target dead on.
(Currently available on most VOD platforms)



A Field in England
Reflecting the influence of such druggy midnight movie staples as The Wicker Man, El Topo and The Last Movie, Ben Wheatley's black-and-white head trip unfolds entirely in the titular field, through which a motley crew of 17th century Englishmen are traipsing in search of a precious, all-powerful item at the behest of a psychotic alchemist. Entirely earnest in its weirdness, A Field in England doesn't wink at the audience or take it easy on them; the dialogue is dense and detailed, while Wheatley's visual flights of fancy -- including the repeated use of slow-motion tableaus and a looming cloud of what appear to be insects -- seem intended to challenge any efforts to "explain" the film. (In a wise move, he leaves the actors plenty of room to deliver actual performances instead of treating them as props servicing his eccentric vision -- a problem that too many wanna-be cult movies often fall prey to.) That experiential-over-explanatory approach makes the film frustrating at times, but also, in a strange way, fun.
(Currently available on most VOD platforms)



Date and Switch
Love & Air Sex
The Right Kind of Wrong
The rom-com shenanigans continue with a trio of non-Dollhouse related indie romances, arriving in your home just in time for Valentine's Day. Off the three, Date and Switch has the set-up with the most potential, provided you can get through the first ten minutes in which the central pair of obnoxious, hormone-ridden high school virgins, Matty and Michael (Hunter Cope and Nicholas Braun), get hot and bothered over the idea of popping their cherries before graduation. But then Matty goes and makes both himself and the movie more interesting by revealing that he's gay, an admission that upends his comfortable bromance with Michael, who subsequently tries to sort out his feelings towards his pal, as well has his pal's supportive ex-girlfriend (Dakota Johnson). Although the movie's awkward shifts between raunchy comedy, maudlin girl/boy drama and earnest pleas for tolerance can make it seem as messy as the emotions the characters are wrestling with, it also handles a coming-out narrative with good humor and sensitivity. And it's certainly a more distinctive take on the genre than Love & Air Sex, a pleasant, but predictable account of two exes (Michael Stahl-David and Ashley Bell) who spend an entire weekend trying to avoid each other and successfully fall in love with other people in the process. Director Brian Poyser filmed the movie in Austin and turns the movie into a kind of Ferris Bueller-style tour of local landmarks, including the flagship Alamo Drafthouse where the local "Air Sex" tournament, in which competitors mime their wildest, craziest sex moves, is in full swing. The Texas scenery proves more interesting than any of the characters, who bicker and complain about the same commitment issues and obnoxious behaviors that apparently afflicts every indie movie character under the age of 30. But hey, at least the main characters in Love & Air Sex aren't creepy stalkers! That's the case with the "hero" at the center of the misfire The Right Kind of Wrong, Leo (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten), a slacker who bounces back from his divorce by falling in love with newlywed Colette (Sara Canning) and repeatedly ignoring her requests to leave her the hell alone. But it's okay, see, because her new husband is actually kind of a jerk, unlike the kind-hearted Leo, whose doggedness is apparently part of his charm. The movie might have worked if it were played in a darkly comic vein which didn't shy away from playing Leo as a creep, but The Right Kind of Wrong gets things extra-wrong by insisting that he's Mr. Right.
(All three films are currently available on most VOD platforms)



The Art of the Steal
Art Machine
"Ocean's Eleven meets The Thomas Crown Affair" was probably the way The Art of the Steal writer/director Jonathan Sobol described his art world heist picture in pitch sessions. As pitches go, it's not a terrible one and the resulting film is equally passable -- a diverting knock-off of better movies that skirts by on the strength of its ensemble cast and some well-implemented misdirections. Kurt Russell heads up the crew as veteran motorcycle stuntman Crunch Calhoun, who uses his speed and skill on a bike to help his accomplices -- idea man (and Crash's younger brother) Nicky Calhoun (Matt Dillon), veteran con artist Uncle Paddy (Kenneth Walsh) and expert forger Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos) -- switch out priceless works of art for fakes. But after a job goes south, Nicky winds up in police clutches and sells out his older sibling, who does five years in a Polish prison. Once he's sprung, the band reunites for one last job on the U.S/Canadian border (adding new members Jay Baruchel and Katheryn Winnick) while trying to stay a step ahead of an Interpol agent (Jason Jones) and his snitch (Terence Stamp). Sobol demonstrates little aptitude for or interest in playing around with heist movie conventions, but he follows the standard playbook efficiently enough to hold the attention of the genre's fans. Staying in the art world, but switching genres completely, the coming-of-age drama Art Machine tells the tale of celebrated painter Declan (Joseph Cross), a child prodigy now at a career crossroads as he's poised to turn 18. Searching for inspiration, he falls in with a group of rebel artists who share a communal loft space and dabble in casual sex and drug use when they're not railing against the corporate nature of the mainstream art world. Declan is particularly drawn to the comely Cassandra (Jessica Szohr), even going off the drugs that treat his bipolar disorder in order to unlock the grand idea he hopes will blow her mind. (I'm happy to say that there are serious consequences to this decision, which help the film avoid the lazy and potentially dangerous cliché that medications inhibit creativity instead of, you know, keeping people sane.) The central conceit of a child prodigy staring down the barrel of adulthood is an interesting one and Cross does a nice job fleshing out the dimensions of his character, capturing the passion that makes him a good artist as well as the naïveté that leads him to make some incredibly unwise choices. But the movie surrounding him never quite coalesces; it's like the pencil sketch that precedes a complete painting.
(Both films are currently available on most VOD platforms.)



After the Dark
The Returned
These are the two ways the world ends: with the bang of a nuclear bomb or the gnashing of zombie teeth. Actually, strike that since the world doesn't really end in either of these pre-apocalyptic movies, but for the characters involved, it sure seems that way. After the Dark unfolds in the classroom of an international high school in Jakarta, Indonesia where a crop of about-to-graduate seniors are receiving one last lesson from their teacher, Mr. Zimit (James D'Arcy). Presenting them with three separate apocalyptic scenarios, he assigns each student a personality and skill set and then guides them through an elaborate role-playing game that requires them to make literally life-and-death decisions. Then, midway through, the class turns the tables on their instructor, as it becomes increasingly clear that he has a personal stake in the way these end-of-the-world fantasies are playing out. Despite some clunky writing and a final twist that's entirely unnecessary, writer/director John Huddles has come up with an intriguing variation on the post-apocalyptic genre that's consistently compelling and often surprising. Manuel Carballo's The Returned similarly takes a seemingly played-out genre -- the zombie picture -- and finds a fresh angle on it, setting the story twenty years after an initial walking dead attack that almost destroyed civilization, but was kept in check by a vaccine that cured the infected, who were subsequently welcomed back into society (though still treated as outsiders). Now though, the supply of that drug is drying up and the already fragile stability of the world is once again threatened. It's a particularly serious situation for medical professional Kate (Emily Hampshire), whose lover Alex (Kris Holden-Reid) is one of the so-called "returned." Carballo and screenwriter Hatem Khraiche are admirably more interested in the politics of the world they've created as opposed to the horror elements, which is probably why the few zombie attacks that are included feel so rote. In many ways, this feels like the kind of thinking man's zombie picture that World War Z could have been had the filmmakers behind that entertaining, but brain-challenged blockbuster been a bit more daring.
(After the Dark is currently available on most VOD platforms; The Returned will be available starting February 14)



Also on VOD:
Three years after taking the Hall H stage at the San Diego Comic-Con, the LARP comedy Knights of Badassdom bypasses theaters and sneaks onto DVD. And I do mean "sneaks" as the studio releasing the film didn't bother making it available to critics, perhaps because of all the behind-the-scenes turmoil. The teen noir California Scheming finds two surfer dudes being manipulated like putty in the hands of a mischief-minded temptress (Gia Mantegna), but her goals -- and their lives -- are too blandly rendered to make viewers care about their respective fates. Set in the world of drug trafficking, Zak Fosman's Down and Dangerous does its best to channel Michael Mann, but can't come close to matching that crime movie boss's visual dexterity and incredible roster of actors.

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