Movies Without Pity

I Want My VOD: September 2013

by Ethan Alter September 4, 2013 4:46 pm
I Want My VOD: September 2013

Ken Marino and Gillian Jacobs have demon trouble in the horror sort-of comedy Bad Milo.

Bad Milo
When is a genre parody not a genre parody? When it's Bad Milo, an almost fetishistic recreation of '80s creature features like Gremlins, Ghoulies and Critters, where the human heroes were menaced by diminutive puppet monsters with a taste for both flesh and blood. Ghoulies is a particularly apt comparison, since that movie is immortalized by a poster that depicted one of the titular monsters popping up out of toilet. Milo, the creature at the center of Bad Milo, is another potty-based creation, emerging from the posterior of Ken (Ken Marino), an office drone suffering from severe gastrointestinal issues that are due to the fact that he has a bug-eyed baby monster residing in his colon. The movie's allusions to male pregnancy (not to mention comparisons to Kevin Smith's Shit Demon from Dogma) aren't at all coincidental. Ken first freaks out about his little visitor (mainly because Milo invariably kills someone whenever he gets loose), before befriending him. All the while he's trying to make sure that his wife, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs, trapped in a role that doesn't take full advantage of her Community-given comic talents), doesn't learn about his… um, love child, I guess? Co-writer/director Jacob Vaughn has concocted a blatantly absurd scenario, but proceeds to play it straight. Or, at least, so deadpan that it's essentially played straight. Marino's presence, as well as the movie's loving recreation of a vintage '80s genre can't help but put one in mind of the brilliant Wet Hot American Summer. But that movie allowed itself to vary its sense of humor, going big and broad, as well as small and eccentric. Too often, Vaughn strangles the comic potential of Bad Milo by keeping everyone so restrained; even Marino, a master of deadpan humor, appears constricted and I'm not just speaking of his digestive issues. A Ghoulies spoof might seem like a random idea, but an extended Ghoulies homage is just pointless.
(Bad Milo is currently available via Magnolia On Demand and will open in theaters on October 4.)

A Single Shot
Next to the Evil Dead movies, Sam Raimi's finest achievement as a director is probably his underrated, under-seen 1998 crime drama A Simple Plan, which takes place in rural Minnesota and features Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton as a pair of working class brothers who stumble upon a great fortune and an even greater mystery as to who said fortune belongs to. I couldn't help flashing back to A Simple Plan throughout A Single Shot, which shares a similar title, backwoods setting (upstate New York, as opposed to Minnesota) and a scruffy, blue collar hero named John (Sam Rockwell), who once again stumbles upon a ton of money (as well as a dead body) and then has to survive the complications that follow. In this case, the complications include two new-in-town ne'er-do-wells (Jason Isaacs and Joe Anderson), the aforementioned dead body and his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly) trying to divorce his ass. Typically cast as the smooth-talking sonuvabitch you're hate to like -- or like to hate -- Rockwell successfully goes against type here, playing a man of few words, but lots of emotion lurking behind his weary eyes. Unfortunately, the slow, ponderous narrative isn't as interesting as the star's performance, lacking the crackling tension that distinguished A Simple Plan. And while director David M. Rosenthal does capture some of the atmosphere of a dilapidated small town where everyone knows your name and your business, it feels like a backdrop that's waiting for some actual drama to occur in front of it.
(A Single Shot is currently available via most VOD services and will be released in theaters on September 20.)

Everyone else heard the Lonely Island ditty "Motherlover" -- about two buddies (specifically Samberg and Timberlake) who sleep with the other's mother -- and thought it was hilarious. Apparently, French filmmaker Anne Fontaine heard it and decided it was perfect fodder for a dramatic feature. (To be fair, the movie is technically an adaptation of a Doris Lessing novella.) Friends since childhood, Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have always lived within walking distance of each other in the same idyllic Australian beach side village. Over the decades, they've started families, helped each other through tragedy (such as the death of Lil's husband) and raised their sons from boys to strapping young men. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Lil's son Ian (Xavier Samuel) finally acts on his longstanding attraction to Roz and his buddy (and her son) Tom (James Frecheville) responds by seducing Lil. Inevitably, the two mothers find out what their kids have been up to, but rather than ending their friendship, it pushes it into a new phase where all four live (and sleep) together like married couples. Needless to say, various complications arise that threaten their odd, but effective domestic routine. If only these complications rendered this people even remotely interesting! While both Wright and Watts are skilled enough to bring some personality to their underwritten characters, but their respective sons are as thin and lifeless as the surfboards they're constantly riding through the rough waves by their beachfront homes. Apart from their washboard abs and underwear-ad ready faces, there's nothing about either of these guys that would seem to interest the women as mothers and/or lovers. Fontaine wants us to believe there are deeper emotions at play here, but the respective romances come across mainly as romance novel-like wish fulfillment. Call it, 50 Shades of Mommy.
(Adore will be available via most VOD service and in limited theatrical release on September 6.)

A Teacher
Continuing the theme of unconventional romances, Hannah Fidell's sophomore feature A Teacher depicts the tumultuous affair between high-school English teacher, Diana (Lindsay Burdge) and one of her pupils, 17-year-old Eric (Will Brittain). Picking up with the couple already seeing each other on the sly, the trim 75-minute narrative tracks Diana's growing dependence on Eric, tolerating and even coming to need his casually abusive treatment (like whipping out his dick in the front seat of a car and goading her into a shotgun seat BJ) and general disregard for her clearly troubled emotional state. Fidell avoids pointing to any one incident that would explain the teacher's self-destructive actions -- though it's suggested that Diana's own mother has serious problems of her own that her daughter has avoided dealing with -- instead concentrating on how that behavior manifests itself through a series of blackout scenes that take place over roughly the course of the school year. As in Adore, the psychology of the central character is compelling, but her relationship with the designated love interest, not to mention the love interest himself, is less-than-substantial. At least here it's clear that Diana is less entranced with actual Eric than with the idea of Eric. Still, that doesn't change the fact that the primary feeling derived from their scenes together is annoyance that Diana is so willfully blind to her lover's assholery or her own journey toward self-immolation. It's also unfortunate that the film freely exploits the titillation factor of the female teacher/male student fantasy, something it would never get away with if the gender roles were reversed. Intentionally or not, by the end of the film it's hard to feel much sympathy for a person whose made her bed and now has to lie in it.
(A Teacher is currently available via most VOD services and will be released theatrically on September 6.)

All Is Bright
Eight years after rocketing Amy Adams to fame with Junebug, director Phil Morrison is back on the big scene with another quirky comedy, All is Bright, featuring confirmed stars Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd as a Montreal-based pair of former small-time hoods -- Giamatti's Dennis wound up in prison, Rudd's Rene avoided it -- who have since gone straight, making a living through odd jobs like carting Christmas trees over the border and selling them on the streets of New York. For the recently paroled Dennis, this gig represents a chance at winning back some of the self-respect he lost when his wife left him… for Rene. And for Rene, it represents a way to raise enough money to marry Dennis's wife and have a good time. Once in NYC, the duo predictably bicker and fight, while Dennis winds up befriending a Russian house sitter (Sally Hawkins) who helps him come to terms with what he's lost and what the future holds. A deliberately small-scale character piece designed to show off the comic chemistry of the two Pauls, All is Bright is pleasant enough, but it's missing the galvanizing energy that Adams brought to Junebug or any compelling reason to exist besides watching Giamatti scream abuse at Rudd. (A sight that, it must be said, is pretty darn amusing.)
(All is Bright will be available via VOD on September 10)

Also on VOD:
The mean-spirited, ugly (both visually and otherwise) horror movie Butcher Boys, which pits a group of morons against a well-armed, bloodthirsty gang, feels like the dying gasp of the bad old days of torture porn. The documentary Good Ol' Freda sits down with Freda Kelly, secretary and longtime personal friend of The Beatles. And if you recently asked yourself, "Hey, whatever happened to Renny Harlin?" the Long Kiss Goodnight auteur's latest movie Devil's Pass is available via IFC on Demand.




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