Now on Demand: Mind-Screwers of the World Unite
And now introducing Michael Atkinson's weekly selections of worthwhile films available on demand...
Still a Wild West of unaligned platforms, mismatched delivery systems and desperate-industry pricing schemes, Video on Demand seems to forecast the future. After all, when we envision how much convenience we will have demanded by, say, 2020, we see instant access, unlimited choices, our choice of home screens (not just our computers), and direct piping -- if we don't actually just have movies cabled right into our skulls with a Matrix hose. (All the better to project Seinfeld reruns on the backs of our eyeballs.) Sounds great, but meanwhile VOD is just another option, albeit an almost instant one. What's new and good for the weekend, amid the usual cable dross and among the immense, inexhaustible libraries at IFC, Criterion, The Auteurs and Amazon?
On Cinemax, you can dip your toe (again?) into the sugar-coated lunacy that is Luc Besson's The Fifth Element. The film stars Bruce Willis as a futuristic cop trying to save the world, but also stars Milla Jovovich as a... whatever she is (she babbles a nonexistent language, and has trouble with clothes). Chris Tucker (!) also appears as a cross-dressing showbiz diva in drag who seemed discarded as too outrageous for Ken Russell's Tommy. Then Isild Le Besco's sister Maiwenn shows up as a blue-skinned octopus and sings an aria from Lucia di Lammermoor. If you're new to this, you can't modulate it; the dosage is what it is.
The Auteurs recently grabbed Dusan Makavejev's Montenegro, the famously recalcitrant Serb's second expatriate film (he'd been exiled after the craziness of W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism), and first in the Reagan-Thatcher era, when the experimental-Godardian art film he'd been so deft at had a Star Wars bath towel stuck down its windpipe. His movies were always messy and dangerous and bubbling with tumult; here, a bored and near-bipolar American housewife (Susan Anspach) in Sweden busts out and sexually communes with displaced Montenegrins in a Stockholm bar. She knows she's in a movie, for one thing, so you can't blame her, but Makavejev is all about thumbing his nose, producing self-propelled phalluses at any opportunity, and railing against state and class power. He is never less than juicy.
Perhaps most mind-screwingly, on Amazon you can see the new totalitarian animation Metropia, from documentarian Tarik Saleh, as a new Tribeca Film Festival preview. Bruisingly bleak and possessed of a digital-animated, nearly lifelike visual identity all its own, Saleh's film is both steampunk Orwellian and quasi-noir: The emaciated hero (voiced by Vincent Gallo) engages in a covert battle against corporate power in an urban maze with the mildewy color and suffocating scale of an abandoned house's locked closet. A better title would have been Claustrotopia, and I mean that as a compliment.