In this week’s minor VOD releases, the world ends via a nasty plague and a malevolent entity, and love blossoms for a pair of sex workers and a woman with multiple personalities.
Tin Can (Select theaters August 5; VOD August 9; Blu-ray September 6): There’s just enough exposition about the nature of a future plague and its potential cure to make this obtuse, arty sci-fi movie frustrating to watch. Protagonist Fret (Anna Hopkins) spends much of the movie trapped in a suspended animation chamber, trying to figure out how she got there and how she can escape. It seems like a grungier, low-fi version of Alexandre Aja’s Oxygen, with periodic flashbacks filling in Fret’s background as a researcher who may have discovered a cure for a fungal disease that has spread across the world. Director and co-writer Seth A Smith is more interested in evocative imagery than in cohesive storytelling, though, and the movie loses focus as it goes along, finally giving up on narrative altogether. The goopy, grimy practical effects are sometimes impressive, but they lose impact without anything concrete to signify. The result is pretentiously gross, and grossly pretentious. Grade: C+
My Favorite Girlfriend (Select theaters August 5; VOD August 9): Playing mental illness for laughs is a risky proposition, and writer-director Amanda Raymond can’t get the balance right in this romantic comedy about a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Bland aspiring chef Conrad (Tyler Johnson) hits it off with a woman he knows as Molly (Bonnie Piesse), only to meet her again under different names and personalities, each one unaware of the others. Raymond eventually gets serious about DID’s causes and treatment, but not before putting Conrad through a bunch of wacky misunderstandings with Molly’s various alters. Neither Johnson nor Piesse is up to the task of portraying anguish and trauma, and the movie comes off as glib even when attempting to be sensitive and informative. Mostly it’s just a dull, rote rom-com with a flat visual style, weak jokes, and annoying supporting characters. Molly may have many personalities, but the movie has none. Grade: C
Bliss (Select theaters August 5; VOD and DVD August 16): The Berlin brothel where Sascha (Katharina Behrens) and Maria (Adam Hoya) work is a surprisingly healthy and supportive environment, and writer-director Henrika Kull’s drama isn’t about exploitation or misery. Instead, it’s a sweet love story between the two prostitutes, who eye each other coyly at work before getting swept up in a whirlwind romance. Kull relies heavily on glances and gestures to convey the intense attraction between the main characters, and at times there seem to be some steps missing in the progression of their relationship. But the chemistry between the stars makes up for those shortcomings, and Kull deliberately leaves many personal details vague so that the movie remains grounded in the present moment, just like the characters are when they’re together. It fizzles a bit toward the end as Kull introduces some slightly contrived conflict, but the woozy, lovestruck vibe ultimately prevails. Grade: B
Canvas (VOD August 9): Writer-director Ryan Guiterman opens this animated horror movie with a long monologue about the history of the universe, delivered in what sounds like Latin by an ancient being that has communed with angels and Satan. The distorted voiceover and abstract visuals promise something grand and strange, so it’s jarring when it’s followed by a clumsy, confusing conspiracy thriller. That ancient being makes its way to Earth, murdering millions of people in a manner that earns it the nickname “the Painter,” for its habit of painting murals in victims’ blood. The U.S. government decides to cover all this up via the “Painter Defense Agency,” and the story is mainly about a PDA agent and a reporter exposing corruption and collusion. Guiterman uses crude, rotoscope-style animation that turns many of the scenes into indistinct blurs, and can’t compensate for the stiff acting and convoluted, nonsensical plot. He aims for grand and strange, and ends up with incoherent and irritating. Grade: D+
The Andy Baker Tape (VOD August 12): The standard found-footage opening disclaimer about authorities recovering a camera from a crime scene doesn’t offer much hope for director Bret Lada’s debut feature. But Lada and co-star/co-writer Dustin Fontaine find enough variations on the tired found-footage format to make The Andy Baker Tape feel relatively fresh. It helps that both of them give strong performances that enhance the believability of the scenario. Lada plays Jeff Blake, a semi-obnoxious vlogger who’s been offered a chance at his own Food Network show, and who makes the ill-advised choice to allow his newly discovered half-brother Andy Baker (Fontaine) to help him shoot his demo reel. Andy’s an obvious creep, although the short movie takes its time revealing the extent of his depravity, and is a little underwhelming once it gets there. The convincingly volatile dynamic between the brothers is enough to make this an unsettling watch even without the inevitable descent into violence, though. Grade: B-