What to do when you're stuck in a moment you can't get out of?
If you enjoy movies in which famous actors get trapped in small places (think Buried and Kill Bill, Vol. 2), Brake is another worthy addition to the genre. Stephen Dorff stars as a Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins, who wakes up to find himself locked in a glass box in the trunk of a speeding car. No, this isn't a drunken initiation prank. Raines has been kidnapped by a domestic terrorist group that's just launched a daring attack on Washington D.C. Why is Jeremy so important to their plans? Because he's the only agent who knows the location of the President's top-secret bunker. To ferret that information out of him, his captors have devised a series of endurance tests designed to break him down and make him spill his (metaphorical, not literal) guts. But they've underestimated how resourceful a Secret Service agent can be in a tight spot -- through a little ingenuity and a whole lot of luck, Jeremy manages to stay alive and avoid revealing crucial state secrets. He even manages to turn the tables on his jailers... or so he thinks. These single-setting, one-man shows can be difficult to sustain, but writer/director Gabe Torres keeps the proceedings moving at a nice clip and throws in a number of entertaining, if implausible plot twists. He's picked a solid leading man in Dorff as well, who proves to be one of the better off-brand Jack Bauers to come along since Kiefer Sutherland left the CTU payroll. Maybe he can headline the inevitable 24 reboot. (Available via Movies on Demand)
Best Scene: I can't give it away, but the final sequence, which explains the whole movie (or does it... ?) is both eye-rollingly silly and kind of awesome.
Here's a new gimmick for an ensemble rom-com. Instead of following a bunch of celebrities as they fall in and out of love over the course of a major holiday (like, say, Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve), Conception depicts how nine different couples conceive bundles of joy, some on purpose and others very much by accident. The pairings of famous faces include Julie Bowen and Gregory Smith as a cougar/young dude in the process of making a sex tape, Connie Britton and Jason Mantzoukas as a married couple entering the difficult world of fertility treatments and Bowen's Modern Family daughter Sara Hyland and Matt Prokop as a virgin teenage couple who decide to change their status to ex-virgins. Written and directed by one-time television writer Josh Stolberg, these conception scenarios are mostly pure sitcom, albeit with a little more nudity and salty language than a network might allow. And because Conception is essentially just a collection of short sketches, it's wildly inconsistent in the way anthology films frequently are. But hey, at least it ain't as bad as New Year's Eve! (Available via Movies On Demand)
Best Scene: The montage of each couple's wildly different reaction after learning that they're pregnant.
4:44 Last Days on Earth
Among the many classic short stories to emerge from Ray Brabury's, one of my favorites is "The Last Night of the World" in which a husband and wife quietly live out mankind's last 24 hours on the planet as if it were any ordinary day. There's no panic, violence or desperate pleas for mercy; just two people facing their end calmly and with few regrets. Director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) takes the same kind of mellow approach to the apocalypse in his newest film, 4:44 Last Day on Earth. With a little under a day to live until the clock strikes 4:44 AM -- the exact minute and hour that the world as we know it will blink out of existence -- Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and his painter girlfriend Skye (Shanyn Leigh) prepare for the end, saying goodbye to their friends and loved ones, ordering one last meal from the Chinese take-out joint on the corner (of course they're still delivering -- people still need to eat after all) and making love with each other in between some angry squabbling. Meanwhile, NY1 broadcasts footage of how the rest of the world is spending their last day (that local news network's popular anchor Pat Kiernan makes a lengthy cameo) and life outside of their Lower East Side apartment goes on as normal. Although the conceit of a quiet apocalypse played better in Bradbury's tale than it does here (you've got to wonder why taxi drivers, for example, are still cruising the streets looking for fares), Dafoe throws himself into this role with his usual intensity and Ferrara's trademark cynicism keeps the movie from indulging in any goopy sentimentality. If I had to pick the way I'd want the world to end, it would be with this kind of quiet whimper rather than a loud bang. (Available via IFC on Demand)
Best Scene: Kiernan's emotional farewell to the world -- for a news anchor, the dude has some serious dramatic chops.
Also on VOD
OnDemand: Carice van Houten plays South African poet Ingrid Jonker in the biopic Black Butterflies, while Adrien Brody stars as a cynical public school teacher in Tony Kaye's ensemble drama Detachment, which also features Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and Lucy Liu.
IFC on Demand: Former Doctor Who star David Tennant wants to marry big-time celebrity Alice Eve but winds up falling for stand-in bride Kelly Macdonald in The Decoy Bride.
Magnolia on Demand: If you're eager to see more of Willem Dafoe after 4:44 Last Day on Earth, you can also order The Hunter, in which he plays a big-game hunter tasked with tracking and killing the elusive Tasmanian tiger.
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