May's VOD offerings lead off with the corporate satire, Syrup, starring Amber Heard.
Just because screenwriter Max Barry and director Aram Rappaport love their purposefully obnoxious and self-absorbed characters so much doesn't mean that we have to. Adapted from Barry's book of the same name, Syrup attempts to do to the corporate world what Network did to network television news: viciously skewer its standards and practices, while also threading a certain amount of moralizing through its cynical satire. But Syrup is no network and Rappaport and Barry are no Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky. Glib and cheeky where its predecessor was cutting and impassioned, Syrup imagines itself to be bolder and funnier than it actually is. The fun (such as it is) starts when income class climber Scat (Shiloh Fernandez) invents the idea for a new energy drink named "FUKK" and takes the concept to a major conglomerate, pitching it to a 21-year-old corporate climber who has adopted the improbable moniker 6 (Amber Heard, channeling Faye Dunaway's icy blonde routine from Network) and she's not even a Cylon. (Although Heard is stunning enough that I'd believe she was built in a lab somewhere or summoned into existence Weird Science-style.)
For obvious reasons, Scat is eager to get closer to 6, but she keeps him at a distance until the wild, wooly world of corporate trickery throws them together so that their professional fates become inextricably linked. Relying on gimmicky voiceover narration and amped up editing to give the movie energy and pep that's not present in the script or the performances, Syrup feels like a feature film version of the Showtime series House of Lies, which similarly tries to skewer corporations and the people that willingly do their dirty work... that is, until they experience the predictable change of heart. But Lies at least has great actors like Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell to help make an audience buy what its selling. Like a can of soda that's been left open for too long, Syrup doesn't fizzle -- it's mostly flat.
(Currently available via Magnolia on Demand and iTunes and will open in limited theatrical release on June 7.)
An uneven, but mostly enjoyable mash-up of a cannibal comedy and a home invasion picture, the New Zealand thriller Fresh Meat begins with Rina (Hanna Tevita), the prodigal daughter of the prestigious Crane family, returning home from school (where she's discovered her Sapphic side) to learn that, in her absence, her celebrity chef mother (Nicola Kawana) and scholar father (Temuera "Django Fett" Morrison) have taken to eating the flesh of human beings. Just as she's adjusting to this bombshell, their house if overtaken by a quartet of bad-ass criminals on the lam of the cops. Over the course of the next hour, the balance of power tips back and forth between the home invaders and the home owners, with Rina trying to decide where her loyalties ultimately lie. Is it with Mom and Dad, despite their taste in meat? Or is it with Gigi (Kate Elliot), the Russ Meyer-esque bad girl member of the gang, who is clearly into Rina? Although the protracted third act causes the film to lose some of its momentum, overall Fresh Meat serves up its human-on-human violence with a smile, putting it squarely within the tradition of such famous Kiwi horror comedies as Black Sheep and Bad Taste.
(Currently available via On Demand)
See Girl Run
Before the one-two punch of Party Down and Parks and Recreation showed how damn funny he could be, Adam Scott was pursuing a more dramatic career in shows like HBO's Tell Me You Love Me, a serious (and seriously dreary) account of the various woes befalling three different couples. (For the record, Scott played the guy half of a childless couple trying to get pregnant.) See Girl Run feels like a feature-length version of that series in that it also presents a dour, depressive and dull depiction of failing relationships. Robin Tunney stars as Emmie, who ditches her husband to travel back to her hometown and possibly reconnect with Jason (Scott), the boy she left behind and never really broke up with. Once she's home, however, she can't bring herself to confront Jason face-to-face, using her brother Brandon (Jeremy Strong) as a go-between. For his part, Jason is in a strange mental space as well, marking time at a dead end job and avoiding any serious romantic commitments, both out of respect to Emmie as well as his general desire to avoid any serious responsibility. The movie's central conceit keeps Tunney and Scott apart for the bulk of the movie's screen time, which is interesting in theory, but in execution results in scene after scene of these two self-absorbed twerps moping about. This is the reason why we need a Party Down movie pronto, to keep Scott from falling back into old habits.
(Currently available via iTunes and On Demand)
Filmed three years ago and finally getting a VOD release since its two stars are on popular TV shows, Jonathan Segal's high school dramedy follows the titular teenage outcast (Dan Byrd of Cougar Town), who lost his mother years ago and is preparing for his cancer-stricken father (Richard Jenkins) to follow. Having long since adjusted to being the school wallflower, Norman sees his popularity skyrocket overnight when, in a fit of pique, he implies that he's the one dying from cancer rather than his old man. Soon, kids who once made fun of him are treating him like a hero and teachers (like Adam Goldberg) are praising his bravery. Best of all, he's finally got his first real girlfriend, Emily (Revenge's Emily VanCamp) a beautiful blonde whose manic pixie dream girl tendencies naturally draw her towards geeks rather than jocks. Naturally, it's only a matter of time until Norman's secret comes out and ruins everything, but until then he gets a crash course in why keeping the world at arm's length isn't the best way to lead your life. Although Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad mines somewhat similar territory with a comic fearlessness that Norman lacks, Segal's movie has its fair share of modest pleasures, most notably Byrd's appealing performance as a character type who is too often entirely unappealing, as well as invaluable supporting work from Jenkins. Thanks to those two, the movie entertains even if it doesn't really enlighten.
(Currently available via On Demand services and on Blu-ray/DVD)
In a documentary that really should have been titled Porn Stars Are People Too, celebrity photographer Deborah Anderson interviews 16 adult movie performers (all women, no dudes) about their lives, dreams and desires (of the non-sexual variety). These conversations take place before, during and after the actresses -- whose ranks include Belladonna, Misty Stone and Jesse Jane -- prepare for an intimate black-and-white photography session with Anderson. (The resulting pictures are part of a tie-in photography book of the same name.) By juxtaposing Playboy-ready images of the subjects lounging around in bed in various states of undress with their personal revelations about relationships gone sour and the judgmental treatment they receive due to their profession, Anderson is clearly trying to make the viewer think about the reality that underlies the fantasy sold by the X-rated picture industry. But the movie's glossy style also feels like a too-convenient come-on, as it embraces the same titillation factor Anderson professes to find disappointing about the way the porn industry is portrayed as a way to lure viewers in to its more "truth" presentation. A more daring documentary would have stripped away the glamor entirely and shown us who these women are when they don't have to play the role of sex object. Provocative title aside, the only feeling Aroused arouses is annoyance.
(Currently available via On Demand)
Also on VOD
The latest (and lamest) Die Hard installment, A Good Day to Die Hard drops on Digital HD May 14, a month ahead of its June 4 DVD release. Rupert "Ron Weasley" Grint plays flyboy in the World War II film, Into the White, available via Magnolia on Demand. And the buzzed about NYC indie Gimme the Loot can be viewed via IFC on Demand.