Now On Demand: Viking Bloodbath Party Time!
Valhalla Rising (IFC on Demand)
Nicholas Winding Refn's new movie of the moment -- a merciless, intestine-hacking trip through Northern Europe in 1000 AD, with brawny Mads Mikkelsen as a mute Viking first enslaved and then lost on a journey to the Crusades. Visually as moody and muscular as a Goya, it may be the definitive movie about the pagan-vs.-nascent Christianity era, not that it has very much competition.
The Maid (Vudu)
A tense, odd, brilliantly acted Chilean psychodrama about the 41-year-old maid of an bourgeoisie family who, after 20 years, must defend her pathetic place in the household against incoming "assistants" and the family's own power struggles. A Buñuelian setup takes unexpected detours, and the upshot is incisive, tense and brutally fascinating. With a Charles McGraw chin and the wary orbs of a jungle cat, Catalina Saavedra is absolutely convincing, and netted a trophy at Sundance last year.
The Shock Doctrine (Sundance Selects)
Radical film factory Michael Winterbottom has made himself an indispensable international film culture figure, aesthetically and politically -- and this is his first full-on doc, a shoot-the-wounded screed visualizing the thesis of Naomi Klein's book, which maintains that American political power has for decades used natural disasters and war to cull corporate profits from the poor, here and elsewhere. This ain't news to anyone but teabag suckers, but it's still appalling all laid out.
Baz Lurhmann ruled the world for a moment with this 2001 hypercaffienated explosion of kitsch, camp, vamp and irony. You're unlikely to have ever seen anything quite like it, and if you can tolerate the barrage (kinda like getting shot in the face with fluorescent paintballs for two hours), it might become a favorite.
Religulous (The Movie Channel on Demand)
Bill Maher decides to investigate, Michael Moore-style, why Americans are so stupid with religion. He doesn't figure it out, of course, and his interviews are loaded dice, but it's about time a we got a good, sardonic atheist documentary, for those of us with Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great permanently ensconced as prime bathroom reading.
The Two Jakes (Flix on Demand)
Jack Nicholson's belated and over-narrated sequel to Chinatown, but a robust, nostalgic, genre-rich blast all the same, with a new Robert Towne script and Nicholson's Jake Gittes years older and many pounds heavier, investigating more L.A. County venality in the postwar era of Big Oil. Released in 1990, with a busy, star-packed cast dominated by the subplot chaos created by Madeline Stowe's unbalanced floozie.
A Scanner Darkly (Starz on Demand)
Richard Linklater's pitch-perfect, disorientingly CGI-rotoscoped 2006 adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel tracks Keanu Reeves as a near-future narc who becomes addicted to a new drug and may, he suspects, be chasing himself. It's not science fiction, really -- but then, what is it? Robert Downey Jr. maxes out the animation's capabilities as a druggy cohort.
The Sun (Cinetic FilmBuff)
Pregnant with mysteries and weird tension, Alexander Sokurov's 2005 capper to his Mad Despot trilogy (having done time contemplating Hitler and Lenin) traces the final days of WWII in the zombie-like company of Hirohito (Issey Ogata), who seems to have already withdrawn from humanity, even though he must negotiate an end to the war with MacArthur. As usual, Sokurov's ideas are not only political but poetic (midway somewhere, the film ejaculates a dream vision of the sky above a fire-bombed Tokyo cruised by giant flying fish, as if an anime maker jimmied his way into the Russian's biopic). Mostly, though, the trilogy's dominant idea is to contrast the way we think of these titans of genocidal destruction with how they may have been in ordinary, everyday life.