In this week’s minor VOD releases, teens re-enact Cyrano de Bergerac, Guy Pearce hangs out with androids, and Hillary Clinton artfully guts fish.
When I’m a Moth (VOD August 27): What is it about Hillary Clinton that moves artsy literary types to create highbrow fan fiction? On the heels of Curtis Sittenfeld’s alt-Hillary novel Rodham comes this wispy, speculative take on that one time that young Hillary spent a summer in Alaska working at a fishery. Filmmakers Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak place their Hillary (Addison Timilin) in a Terrence Malick-style romantic tryst with a local Japanese immigrant (TJ Kayama) who lives in an abandoned boat. Although set in 1969, the movie often feels like it’s channeling a modern perspective into its depiction of the past, especially as Hillary talks in self-aware soundbites about her potential future political career. When I’m a Moth is abstract and metaphysical at times, but then also includes dialogue with phrases like “Goldwater conservative.” It relies so heavily on extra-textual awareness that it’s impossible to buy into as a general coming-of-age drama, but it also fails to say anything substantive about Clinton or the American political landscape. Grade: C
It Takes Three (VOD September 3): As far as teen takes on Cyrano de Bergerac go, last year’s The Half of It was far more effective than this half-baked version, which dutifully transposes elements of the Cyrano story without adding anything creative or enlightening. Moonrise Kingdom’s Jared Gilman stars as Cy Berger, an awkward nerd with a crush on the beautiful, artistic and intelligent Roxy (Aurora Perrineau). Roxy is also being pursued by dumb, boorish jock Chris (David Gridley), so Cy does the Cyrano thing, taking over Chris’ social media to make him seem cultured and sensitive for Roxy’s benefit. The filmmakers add in vague themes about online identity, but those are mostly just superficial tweaks to a predetermined narrative, as familiar from other teen movies as from classic literature. Cy and Chris are both kind of jerks, and while the female characters are more charming, there’s not much satisfaction in seeing everyone end up exactly where you knew they would be. Grade: C+
Saving Paradise (VOD and select theaters September 3): Allegedly based on true events but coming across as completely phony, this insipid inspirational drama uses every uplifting cliché it can find to tell the story of a small town coming together to save the beloved local pencil factory. When the factory’s owner dies of a heart attack, his son returns to Paradise from the Big City to take over. Michael (William Moseley) drives a Jaguar, has slicked-back hair, and works for an investment firm that might as well be called Evil Capitalists, Inc. He has only 90 days before the company defaults on a massive loan, which is just enough time to reconnect with his childhood sweetheart, come to terms with the death of his brother, and relearn the value of small-town life. The dialogue is painfully corny, the supporting characters are walking greeting cards, and the only authentic element is the footage of the actual pencil factory where some of the workplace scenes were shot. Grade: D+
Zone 414 (VOD and select theaters September 3): Guy Pearce affects a wandering accent as grizzled future detective David Carmichael in this derivative sci-fi thriller. David is hired by an eccentric tech mogul (Travis Fimmel, overacting through extensive prosthetics) to retrieve the mogul’s daughter, who’s gone missing in a walled-off city where humans and androids are allowed to freely interact (i.e., have sex). David teams up with angsty android prostitute Jane (Matilda Lutz) in what amounts to a cut-rate Blade Runner with bits of Escape From New York and Westworld. Pearce brings some no-nonsense grounding to the absurdity, but the world-building is incoherent, the hard-boiled dialogue is overcooked, and the mystery plot is never compelling. Director Andrew Baird works hard to convey a more expansive sci-fi setting within his obviously limited budget, but the script by veteran comic book writer Bryan Edward Hill might have been more successfully realized in a graphic novel, where its ridiculousness could have been more of an asset. Grade: C
It Came From Below (VOD September 7): Despite its schlocky title, this British horror movie is quite measured and sensitive for a movie about a cave-dwelling monster from beyond. To vindicate (or possibly vilify) their late father, siblings Jessie (Megan Purvis) and Sam (Jake Watkins) venture to the remote caves where he claimed to have seen a strange, deadly creature. Director and co-writer Dan Allen takes time to establish character relationships before throwing Jessie, Sam and their companions into danger, and there’s even some poignancy to the family dynamic. The characters still make dumb decisions that place them in harm’s way, and once they enter the cave, most of the action is just indistinct blurs in darkness – which might be for the best, since the occasional clear glimpses of the monster reveal it as goofy-looking and clumsy. That doesn’t really take away from the terror, though, and while Allen never matches up to The Descent, he makes a respectable addition to the subgenre. Grade: B-