If you've ever wanted to see David Cross, Julia Stiles and America Ferrera in the same movie... well, now you can through the magic of VOD.
It's a Disaster
As Jerry Seinfeld might say, what's the deal with all these apocalypse-themed comedies? Last summer saw the release and instant dismissal of the irritatingly twee indie rom-com Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and this June brings Seth Rogen's directorial debut, This is the End, in which he and a bunch of his famous buddies throw a raging party that's interrupted by the end of days. And now in between those two comes It's a Disaster, writer/director Todd Berger's small-scale, one-set, awkward-laugh filled depiction of a society plunged into chaos. While we don't yet know how This is the End will turn out (although those early trailers are awfully funny), I can say with absolute authority that Disaster is a significant upgrade from Seeking a Friend, where I constantly found myself wishing that the world would just hurry up and end so we wouldn't have to spend another minute in the company of the movie's mismatched, miscast lovers.
Disaster doesn't begin as a disaster movie at all... at least, not an apocalypse-level disaster. Instead, the first half-hour is given over to a couples' brunch that's being held at the lovely suburban abode belonging to Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller), a husband-and-wife whose marriage has seen better days. Also in attendance are pals like Hedy (America Ferrera), Shane (Jeff Grace) and Tracy (Julia Stiles), who brings along her new boyfriend Glenn (David Cross) to introduce to the group. But the group's upbeat mood sours early, the victim of catty commentary, strained conversation and the admission that Emma and Pete are getting a divorce. Just when this seems ready to go down in the annals of the all-time worst brunches, word arrives from an annoying neighbor in a hazmat suit that a series of dirty, disease-carrying bombs have gone off around the country, reducing most cities and landmarks to rubble and spelling certain doom for those unfortunate souls left alive following the initial attack. As the group tries to confirm this news (which is harder than you might think when the power's out, cell towers are down and there are no batteries in the house to get a radio working) they re-open old wounds, apologize for past wrongs and prepare for the end. But, you know, in a funny way, natch.
Less forced than Seeking a Friend and seemingly less self-aware than This is the End will be, It's a Disaster settles into a tone that's halfway between dysfunctional buddy comedy and survivalist drama and manages to sustain it for 90 minutes. It's not laugh-out-loud hysterical, but the ensemble -- Cross and the always-amusing Hayes in particular -- establishes a just-zany-enough rapport that's enjoyable rather than irritating. Meanwhile, behind the camera Berger manages to make room for some surprisingly intimate and even touching moments amidst the more overtly comic beats. (He seems equally influenced by both The Big Chill and Right at Your Door, the latter of which has a strikingly similar premise to Disaster, to the point where it almost seems like a remake... albeit with more jokes.) If you can only see one apocalyptic comedy before the world ends, make it this one... unless the world ends after June 14 in which case This is the End might be the preferred choice.
(It's a Disaster is currently available on most VOD services and opens in limited theatrical release on April 12.)
David Cronenberg's son Brandon makes the leap to feature filmmaking, writing and directing a chilly, atmospheric and altogether Cronenbergian study of abnormal psychology and body horror. Musician and actor Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd March, a worker bee at a seriously screwed-up clinic that collects and sells viruses extracted from the disease-ridden bodies of famous people. (And if you have to ask why anyone in their right mind would purchase a disease just because their favorite celebrity has it, clearly you haven't met any Justin Bieber superfans.) To make a little extra money on the side, March has been injecting the viruses into his own body and selling them to virus pirates. It's a risky, but lucrative business model, but the risks catch up to him when he develops the illness that felled world famous starlet, Hannah (Sarah Gadon, who recently starred in Cronenberg Sr.'s Cosmopolis.) Can he find the cure before he dies too? While this may sound like the set-up for a classic ticking clock thriller, Brandon Cronenberg -- like his old man -- has little interest in playing genre conventions straight. This is a slow, methodical movie that does eventually arrive somewhere interesting, even though the journey there can grow tedious. While not quite as formally daring as Cosmopolis or Naked Lunch or as narratively compelling as The Fly or A History of Violence, Antiviral does resemble a decent second-generation Dead Ringers and indicates that, if nothing else, there will still be a Cronenberg around to carry on the patented family aesthetic if and when the reigning patriarch retires.
Z (Antivrial will be available on VOD via IFC on Demand and in theaters starting April 12.)
If Antiviral seeks to go against the genre grain, this Philippines-set kidnapping-gone-wrong thriller directed by Ron Morales and released stateside by Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse, mostly embraces the conventions of its particular story type, albeit with a higher quotient of violence and sordid sexual escapades. Working from a template made famous by Akira Kurosawa's definitive kidnapping tale, 1963's High and Low, Graceland begins with the driver for a wealthy politician getting hijacked by two crooks who kidnap both his daughter and his employer's daughter. After an errant gunshot claims one of the victims' lives, the patsy is forced to hide the body and carry on the ruse about both girls having been taken in order to encourage his boss -- who ain't no saint himself due to his predilection for paying to have sex with underage girls -- to pay up. Threats are made, plans are hatched and then go haywire and in the end, of course, things are not what they seem! [Insert "dun, dun, duuuun" music sting here.] While relentlessly grim -- as if David Fincher were secretly calling the shots behind the camera or something -- Graceland does keep you invested in seeing what happens next... even if that something is probably hugely unpleasant and upsetting.
Moviegoers mostly ignored it during its brief theatrical release in January, but Allen Hughes's feature-length Chinatown homage is actually an eminently solid and enjoyable crime drama that plays quite nicely on the small screen. Walberg portrays a disgraced NYC cop turned P.I. who does a favor for the Big Apple's ruthless mayor (Russell Crowe) and winds up stumbling upon a corruption plot that sends him plunging into the city government's seedy underbelly. Like Chinatown's J.J. Gittes, Wahlberg's private dick is meant to be behind the eight ball for the majority of the movie's runtime, a character trait that fits Wahlberg's default setting of wide-eyed earnestness. And Crowe is far more ease at playing a bad who doesn't have to sing, even if his mayor is written and performed more as Giuliani than Bloomberg. (Come to think of it, the entire movie feels as though it's taking place in '90s New York... maybe that's how long the script has been languishing in development hell.) If you passed on Broken City in theaters, it's a worthwhile watch for a night in.
(Broken City is currently available via Digital HD. The DVD will be released on April 30.)
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