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Friday, November 30, 2012

Movies You Missed 66: The Day

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 8:07 PM

This week in movies you missed: Would The Road be better with ass kicking? WWE Studios decided to find out.

What You Missed

Six raggedly dressed, well-armed, photogenic young people hike along a country road in what appears to be a normal stick-season landscape. Because everything has been digitally drained of color, however, we can safely assume something apocalyptic has happened.

Our heroes (played by Dominic Monaghan of “Lost" and hobbit fame, Shawn Ashmore, Shannyn Sossamon, Ashley Bell and Cory Hardrict) explore a deserted farmhouse and discover a precious cache of food cans. But something is tracking them. It transpires that the house is a potential death trap where the group will make a valiant, budget-friendly last stand. For, you see, nothing has grown on earth in 10 years, and our friends are among the last survivors who haven’t become cannibals.

Why You Missed It

Made in Canada, Doug Aarniokoski’s flick reached 12 U.S. theaters and grossed only about $21,000.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If nothing else, The Day proves that Ashley Bell deserves a better career. The star of The Last Exorcism carries this movie as Mary, a grim, battle-scarred young woman who is hiding an ugly secret from her companions. (Someone should have told her that if you don’t want people to see a tattoo on your thigh, it's best not to wear a flippy, thigh-length dress. Really, there’s never a good reason for thigh-high skirts after the apocalypse.)

Combined with that bleak, starkly lit landscape, Bell’s demeanor gives the film a few iotas of credibility. Stealing the premise wholescale from Cormac McCarthy also helps its cause. Just like in The Road, we’re never told what wasted our planet; all that matters is that strangers want to eat you. And they’re smarter and more articulate than zombies! It’s the ultimate paranoid fantasy.

Luke Passmore’s script is pretty weak, but there isn’t much dialogue, so it doesn’t matter. The film has enough extreme violence to satisfy genre fans, though it’s not particularly well filmed or choreographed, with many fights dark or poorly framed.

That said, for an extremely low-budget apocalyptic exploitation movie, The Day was more watchable than I expected. It stands out for its attempt to depict, however sketchily and ill-informedly, a working society of cannibals, down to the cute wittle man-eating youngsters. I'm not sure why the first cannibal to get a speaking part looked like he'd just popped out of Starbucks in his stylish duster, but as a general principle, cannibals who resemble regular folks are scary.

Verdict: A kid who encountered this flick on late-night cable would probably end up with a few bizarre and traumatic images burned in his or her brain for life, just like I did when I happened to see the end of A Boy and His Dog at age 10. And isn’t that what exploitation cinema is really for?

More New DVDs

The Apparition (Ashley Greene versus a supernatural entity)

Burning Man (Matthew Goode plays a “hunky chef” who has “eye-popping sexual encounters.”)

Lawless

ParaNorman

Step Up Revolution (another dance flick)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Movies You Missed 65: Dark Horse

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 7:22 PM

This week in movies you missed: your antidote to Twilight Part 5: the least romantic movie of the decade.

What You Missed

Abe (Jordan Gelber) is 35, pudgy, balding, and lives with his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow). He is gainfully employed — at his dad’s company — but uses his earnings to buy Thundercats action figures.

One day, Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair) and falls in love. She responds to his courting with the near-catatonic indifference of someone in a deep depression, but this doesn’t stop him from proposing marriage. Miranda turns him down, then changes her mind. She’s just had a Skype with her ex, she explains, and he convinced her it’s best to give up all hope for the future and settle. When she and Abe kiss, she remarks without irony, “That wasn’t horrible.”

Things go downhill from there.

Why You (May Have) Missed It

The only place to catch Dark Horse in Vermont was a special screening at Main Street Landing set up by the Burlington Film Society.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Recent years have brought us so many, many movies about manchildren in a state of arrested development, from Steve Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin to Will Farrell and John C. Reilly acting like 14-year-olds in Step Brothers. With the sole exception of Ben Stiller’s title character in Greenberg, all these guys have been sweet, adorable and basically good hearted, just in need of the right woman to get them out of their cocoon.

Imagine Todd Solondz, who brought us Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, watching these movies. Imagine him sneering at their happy endings. Imagine him wondering, Who says losers have to be lovable? What if losers are sometimes just ... losers?

And so Abe was born. He is not a sympathetic character, as Solondz ensures by making him drive a yellow Hummer, wear an ironic disco necklace with his name on it and constantly put other people down. In Abe's mind, he’s not the underachiever of the family just because his brother (Justin Bartha) is a handsome doctor. He’s the “dark horse” competitor waiting for his big break, and he thinks Miranda is it. Never mind that he barely knows her — she’s “out of his league,” which makes her desirable.

Abe remains so small minded and non-self-aware throughout the movie that he only starts to draw our sympathy when Miranda does something that makes her look even worse. The film’s only likable character is Marie (Donna Murphy), the older-single-lady coworker on whom Abe relies to cover his ass when he misses deadlines. In Abe’s fantasies, she becomes a sexy cougar who takes him to her James Bond lair and tells him to stop whining and shape up in noir tough-dame style. Too bad that wasn’t real.

These fantasies increasingly take over the movie as it becomes clear that Solondz doesn’t know where to go with it. Are these characters redeemable? Does it matter? I thought the movie fell apart at the end, despite a few scenes that force viewers to look really hard at themselves, ironic T-shirts and all.

A.O. Scott disagrees, and his review of Dark Horse is worth reading.

Verdict: an unpleasant and yet somehow cleansing experience. Solondz remains the only American filmmaker I can think of who is completely devoted to counteracting our national tendency toward positive thinking. If you’re in the target audience, you may laugh out loud and then find yourself groaning in pain.

More New DVDs

2 Days in New York (Julie Delpy’s sequel to 2 Days in Paris)

Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Heathens and Thieves (indie western about raid on a Chinese-owned ranch)

Of Two Minds (Kristin Davis tries to care for schizophrenic sister.)

The Queen of Versailles (Real Housewife of the Recession)

Savages

The Watch

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Movies You Missed 63: Last Ride

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 6:34 PM

This week in movies you missed: It’s not easy to draw the line between a loving parent and an abusive one in this Aussie film.

What You Missed

Ex-con Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his 10-year-old son, Chook (Tom Russell), are homeless and trekking through the Australian outback. Chook’s mom isn’t in the picture and never has been. Where they came from and why they keep moving are things we learn gradually from TV news, flashbacks and a meeting with one of Kev’s old girlfriends, Maryanne (Anita Hegh).

As the journey takes them farther from civilization, Chook suspects his dad has hurt someone he cares about. He watches as Kev brutalizes people who get in their way, and sometimes he bears the brunt of that rage himself. But his dad can also be gentle and affectionate — wistful as he tells stories of Chook’s mother, patient as he teaches Chook to swim. Can Chook betray the only family he has?

Why You Missed It

Released in Australia in 2009, Last Ride played in two U.S. theaters earlier this year.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Perhaps you saw Beasts of the Southern Wild? A bleaker, more cynical version of that story from an older child’s perspective might look something like Last Ride, which is based on a Denise Young novel. First-time feature director Glendyn Ivin pairs stunning natural beauty, beautifully photographed, with one of the most disturbing parent-child dynamics ever put on film. It might all seem distanced, slow and arty (Ivin can’t resist showily pretty shots like one combining sparklers and a sunset), if not for the raw performances.

Hugo Weaving has played villains in so many American movies, from Agent Smith to six different nasty characters in Cloud Atlas, that moviegoers see him as the cartoon bad guy. Last Ride reminds us that he can also play, well, a really human and nuanced bad guy with a charming side. (For a fine better-guy performance by Weaving, see Proof [1991], also showcasing an exceedingly dimply young Russell Crowe.)

As for young Russell, well, he just becomes this character. Chook is a survivor: adaptable, grimy and knowing beyond his years, though he seldom speaks. He reminds us how utterly ridiculous it is for Hollywood to style semiferal children like they came straight from a suburban soccer game (see the NBC show “Revolution” last Monday). Like most kids, Chook has accepted his parent’s view of the world as How Things Are, and the film traces the awakening of his independent moral consciousness in stark and terrible fashion.

Verdict: a walkabout on the dark side.

More New DVDs

360 (another “everything is connected” drama with Jude Law and Rachel Weisz)

The Amazing Spider-Man

Arthur Christmas

“Copper,” season 1

Even the Rain (Gael Garcia Bernal in drama about filmmaking and politics set in Bolivia)

Fire With Fire (Crime thriller with Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis)

Hirokin: The Last Samurai (He lives on another planet!)

I Wish (The latest from acclaimed director Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Maximum Conviction (Steven Seagal, apparently still kicking ass)

Rites of Passion (1987 adult film directed by sex-positive crusader Annie Sprinkle)

Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton directs Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt in an unusual relationship triangle.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Movies You Missed 62: Turn Me On, Dammit!

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 7:33 PM

This week in movies you missed: Alma is young, Norwegian and horny. No, this isn’t a porno.

What You Missed

Alma (Helene Bergsholm), age 15, lives in the desolate town of Skoddeheimen, a place anyone who grew up in rural Vermont will instantly recognize as death to all teenagers’ spirits. She opens the film by noting local landmarks: “Road. Road with tractor. Stupid sheep.”

And, yes, Alma is horny. So horny she calls a phone-sex line, fantasizes incessantly and masturbates in inappropriate places. Unfortunately, the guys around her aren’t as sexually savvy as her phone friend. At a party, classmate Artur (Matias Myren) shows he’s smitten with her by whipping out his hard-on and poking it at her thigh. When she tells her friends about this smooth move, they doubt her story, and in short order she has become “Pikk-Alma” (“Dick-Alma”), the school pariah.

Ah, high school. Don’t you miss it?

Why You Missed It

You may have caught Turn Me On, Dammit! when it played briefly at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier. The Savoy has been doing some bold programming in its basement, using a digital distribution service — but you need to act fast, because few films run longer than a week. Here’s where to find the schedule.

Should You Keep Missing It?

As indie films about coming of age go, Turn Me On, Dammit! is fine, but nothing that special. Working from a novel, director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen got excellent performances from nonprofessional teen actors (including her lead), and she gives the film a pleasant look, with Norwegian landscapes in muted grays and blues contrasting with the kicky pastels worn by Alma and her friends.

The short film (just 76 minutes) feels a bit aimless as it wanders from Alma’s perspective to that of her friend Sara (Malin Bjørhovde), who’s obsessed with social justice instead of sex. (She dreams of moving to Texas to fight the death penalty.) And Alma’s mom (Henriette Steenstrup) remains a sketchy character. But the girls’ rapport is realistic, and random comic bits pop up throughout the movie. It’s a fun watch, if not the most compelling one.

But none of that is why Turn Me On, Dammit! got festival play and minor U.S. distribution. The reason is shock value. Awkward teen boys whose lust inspires humiliating mishaps are a staple of Hollywood comedies. But teen girls? They get Fun Size. They get Bella Swan tugging off Edward Cullen’s shirt while he begs her not to tarnish his century-old purity. Admittedly, Bella is pretty insistent, but can you imagine a scene where she deals with her frustration solo? Only in fanfiction.

So, yeah. As long as people (including teens themselves) find teen female sexuality embarrassing, prefer to see it sublimated into romance, and assume any cruder depiction of it will appeal mainly to perverts, Turn Me On, Dammit! will be a daring film. For the record, it contains flashes of nudity but is not explicit or (in my view) exploitive. But it probably couldn’t get an R rating.

Verdict: Now I’m imagining a mash-up of this and Twilight. That will give me something to think about when I have to sit through Breaking Dawn: Part 2: Raising Your Insta-Grow Vampire Child.

More New DVDs

Americano (French guy finds out his deceased mom was sleeping with Salma Hayek. What?)

The Ballad of Genesis & Lady Jaye (Documentary about the art- and love-driven physical transformation of performance artist Genesis P-Orridge.)

Bindlestiffs (Male teen virgins on the loose in the big city!)

The Campaign (Election comedy)

First Position

I’m Carolyn Parker (Jonathan Demme portrays an activist in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.)

Payback (Doc based on Margaret Atwood’s nonfiction book about debt)

Polisse (Gritty French procedural drama)

Ruby Sparks

Safety Not Guaranteed

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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