From New Zealand to Ukraine to Japan, these latest low-profile VOD releases provide an international tour of questionable filmmaking choices.
She’s in Portland (VOD September 25) Two former college buddies in their mid-30s navigate early midlife crises in Marc Carlini’s insufferable dramedy. Wes (Tommy Dewey) is a wealthy finance bro with a seemingly perfect life (gorgeous wife played by Minka Kelly, cute toddler daughter) that he finds stifling. He impulsively flies to L.A. and convinces his broke, aimless old friend Luke (Francois Arnaud) to take a road trip to Portland for Luke to reconnect with the college crush he’s still pining for. Carlini seems to be aiming for a Sideways vibe, but his main characters aren’t fascinatingly flawed; they’re just smug douchebags, and there’s an air of misogynistic entitlement to the characters’ interactions with the various beautiful women who practically throw themselves at these mediocre men. This superficial, self-satisfied movie is shot like a pharmaceutical commercial, full of slow-motion frolicking on the beach at magic hour. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a polo shirt with a popped collar. Grade: C-
Alien Addiction (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray September 29) From ALF to Seth Rogen’s Paul, aliens who come to Earth just to goof off and possibly get high are nothing new, so the most notable thing about the stoned aliens in this New Zealand comedy is the method they use to achieve their altered state: They smoke human feces. Writer-director Shae Sterling struggles to stretch this one-joke premise to feature length, as his two main aliens befriend a local slacker and run from a pair of online conspiracy theorists looking to cash in on capturing extraterrestrials. There is, of course, lots of scatological humor, along with numerous jokes at the expense of the larger lady who romantically pursues the protagonist. The plotting is choppy, the comedy is simplistic and rarely funny, and the human characters are mostly annoying. At least the prosthetic design on the aliens, with their blue, vaguely butt-shaped faces, looks cool. Grade: C
Let’s Scare Julie (VOD October 2) A group of obnoxious teenage girls decide to play a “prank” on their possibly Muslim and/or disabled new neighbor Julie by, uh, breaking into her house and screaming at her. It’s hard to feel bad for them when things start to go wrong because Julie has, of course, moved into a cursed house. Pointlessly constructed as a single take (although there are numerous small jump cuts), the movie mostly takes place in a handful of rooms, with the main characters panicking about all the scary stuff that happened offscreen. Writer-director Jud Cremata follows the characters with the camera like he’s documenting a party, not making a horror movie, and there’s nothing impressive about the visual composition. A few effects shots aside, the whole thing could have been a stage play. Cremata throws in a late-breaking, half-formed anti-bullying message, which just makes his movie feel more like a school presentation rather than an intense thriller. Grade: C
The Rising Hawk (VOD October 2) Partially financed by the Ukrainian government, this would-be historical epic, inspired by a classic of Ukrainian literature, aims to be the country’s version of Braveheart or 300, but ends up closer to a cheesy American B-movie. It doesn’t help the authenticity that the production, helmed by American John Wynn alongside local co-director Akhtem Seitablayev, is cast largely with American and British actors, including Robert Patrick as legendary figure Zakhar Berkut. It’s really Zakhar’s son, Maksim (Alex MacNicoll), who’s the hero here, leading a scrappy group of 13th-century Carpathian villagers against the Mongol army of Burunda Khan (Tsegmid Tserenbold). All of that government money shows up onscreen, but the characters are one-dimensional, the actors seem lost, the dialogue is clunky, and the action is repetitive and tedious. No amount of sweeping shots of majestic hillsides can make up for that. Grade: C
Tokyo Home Stay Massacre (VOD and DVD October 2) The title is a riff on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but this micro-budget Japanese production borrows from various sources, always ineptly. A trio of American college students show up to their home stay with a Japanese family to discover that they’ve been lured into some kind of ancient ritual, the details of which have obviously been lost in translation. The movie starts out following the Ring/Grudge template of somber J-horror (including a long-haired daughter who looks like The Ring’s Sadako, complete with her own TV tuned to static), before offering up a Leatherface stand-in with a grunting, disfigured son, and then taking a turn into the cartoonish, gore-filled nonsense of a Yoshihiro Nishimura or Sion Sono movie. None of it works, and the stilted English-language dialogue, delivered with maximum awkwardness, robs the movie of any tension or scares. It’s tonally and stylistically incoherent, and it doesn’t even have fun with its silliness. Grade: D-