VODepths: What to See (and Avoid) On Demand This Week

This week’s low-profile VOD releases travel from the Amazon rainforest to the Quebec criminal underworld to the Minnesota pop-punk scene, along with a real-time ride through the streets of L.A.

Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon (VOD and DVD November 29): A hodgepodge of animated movies from The Lion King to FernGully: The Last Rainforest to Moana, this Peruvian-Dutch production is as muddled as its influences and origins. The title character (voiced by Lola Raie) is a spunky Disneyfied tween heroine who’s part of an indigenous Amazon tribe. Her village is under a curse for which some blame Ainbo and her late mother, although the reasoning is as vague as the movie’s scattershot version of tribal mythology. Seeking to break the curse, Ainbo goes on a quest aided by a pair of annoying talking-animal spirit guides who are obvious Timon and Pumbaa knock-offs. The vague eco-conscious anti-imperialist message gets lost in the confusing plot, and both the animation and the characters are plastic and stiff. Ainbo is a plucky go-getter whose eagerness outstrips her effectiveness, just like the movie. Grade: C

Dash (VOD November 29): Writer/director/cinematographer Sean Perry is so committed to this movie’s single-take gimmick that he never even moves the camera. The entire movie is one continuous shot from a camera mounted on the dashboard of the obnoxious main character’s car, with such a static visual style that most of it might as well be a stage play. Milly (Alexander Molina) drives around L.A. over the course of one harrowing night, but since the camera never leaves the car, the surroundings are largely irrelevant. The title refers to the Lyft/Uber analog that Milly works for, picking up various unruly passengers as he manages confrontations with the women in his life. He’s not as compelling as Tom Hardy in Locke or the main character of this year’s similar Nightride, and his increasingly dangerous predicaments are almost all the result of his own terrible decisions. Spending 100-plus minutes with this guy is insufferable enough without losing the chance to look away even for a moment. Grade: C

Summertime Dropouts (VOD and DVD November 29): Obscure Minnesota pop-punk band Summertime Dropouts engage in some hardcore wish fulfillment in this bland teen comedy about a Minnesota pop-punk band called Summertime Dropouts. The movie’s version of the band is a trio of recent high school grads whose greatest dream is to join the Warped Tour, which gets extensive product placement in this 2018-shot production. The three dudes have convenient counterparts/love interests in an all-female pop-punk trio, but the story is largely conflict-free, leading up to a perfunctory cameo from Canadian pop-punk hitmakers Simple Plan. The music and the plot are dated even for 2018, with no insights about the challenges of the music industry or the sacrifices required for artistic ambition. Summertime Dropouts’ songs, repurposed as the characters’ originals and used as music video-style filler, serve as a reminder of why the actual band never achieved the success they conjure up for their avatars. Grade: C-

Confessions of a Hitman (VOD and Film Movement Plus December 2): A decades-spanning true-crime drama narrated by a longtime mob enforcer who turns state’s evidence, director/star Luc Picard’s film isn’t quite the French-Canadian Goodfellas, although it’s often gripping. Gerald Gallant (Picard), who was convicted of 28 murders over the course of 25 years, is no Henry Hill, either: He’s frumpy and awkward, speaking with a stutter and traumatized by his mother’s emotional abuse during his childhood. He’s not the kind of guy who always wanted to be a gangster, but he’s good at his job. Picard plays Gerald as a sort of tragic figure without excusing his crimes, and nothing about this schlub’s life ever seems glamorous or exciting. The movie ends up slightly drab as well, but Gerald’s mundane existence makes for surprisingly rich drama, especially in his affair with a woman who’s a little too eager to support his chosen profession. It’s no Scorsesean epic, but it’s more creatively rewarding than most true-crime material. Grade: B

What Remains (VOD and select theaters December 2): This dour faith-based drama is dedicated to the memory of co-star Anne Heche, and her offbeat supporting performance is all that enlivens the plodding story of guilt and redemption. Cress Williams stars as Marshall, a pastor determined to forgive the man who killed his wife in a botched burglary. When Troy (Kellan Lutz) is released on parole after five years, Marshall gives him a job doing menial work around the church. That doesn’t sit well with the pastor’s teenage son Samuel (Marcus Gladney Jr.), who resents his father’s efforts to save Troy’s soul. Meanwhile, Heche’s mulleted sheriff is investigating a mysterious death in a sporadic subplot that mostly amounts to pointless misdirection. What Remains is grittier than the typical Christian movie, and Williams and Lutz do their best to bring emotional honesty to their poorly written characters. But it’s still glum and self-righteous, with little to offer beyond a homily. Grade: C

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of 'Las Vegas Weekly' and has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.

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