This week sees the VOD debuts of two of the year’s most championed indie releases, as well as a film about teenagers a half-decade before the term “teenage” was first applied and a movie one critic said might be “the most anti-Hollywood movie ever.”
That film is “The Congress,” Ari Folman’s film about an out-of-work actress accepting a final job. Starring Robin Wright and featuring the voices of Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston, Harvey Keitel, and Jon Hamm, the film mixes live-action with the rotoscope style that Folman previously employed on “Waltz with Bashir” to intoxicating effect.
Next up is “Snowpiercer,” the English-language debut of Korean director Bong Joon-ho. After a brief but successful run in theaters, the film is making an early venture onto VOD. Featuring a pair of gloriously unhinged turns from Tilda Swinton as an upper-class diplomat and Alison Pill as a psychotically chipper schoolteacher, the film is a bizarre, often thrilling mixture of sci-fi action blockbuster and ambitious personal project.
Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer and Jessie Usher provide narration for “Teenage,” a documentary on the coming-of-age of four teens: a black Boy Scout, a German swing kid, a British socialite, and a Hitler Youth. The film illustrates that the adolescent feeling of restlessness and newfound self-awareness is constant, even when dealing with a period where the concept wasn’t yet defined.
Finally, this week also sees the VOD release of “Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer’s arthouse sci-fi film about an alien (Scarlett Johansson) who lures men to a horrible fate for reasons hinted rather than spelled out. Johansson gives a bravely inscrutable performance, allowing the viewer to project their feelings and questions onto her, and Glazer takes recognizable influences from “Starman” to the nudes of Eadweard Muybridge and turns them on their heads, rendering the familiar alien, unpredictable, and exhilarating.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Criticwire Average: B+
Beth Hanna, Thompson on Hollywood!
The snowpocalypsed world outside the train will polarize viewers. Some will find it overly animated (as my viewing partner did), a casualty of too much CG. But I found the icy wilderness rather haunting, with its whited-out relics of cities, cavernous ice cliffs and even a few perished civilians, frozen like statues into the barren, brutal landscape. It does indeed look animated, but in a way that’s in keeping with the film’s graphic novel elements. Everything happening inside the train is larger than life — and yet all about life — and the outside world is that way too: Horrific, hyperbolic, yet maybe containing the faintest glimmer of hope. Read more.
Director: Ari Folman
Criticwire Average: B+
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
“The Congress” is harder to explain than experience, but its central conceits come hard and fast. It rails against commercialism with an absurdly far-fetched premise rendered in the bright palette of a Ralph Bakshi movie and a surrealist edge that echoes “Naked Lunch.” But it’s also a wholly original sensory overload bound to confuse and provoke in equal measures. Read more.
Director: Matt Wolf
Criticwire Average: B
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
But that said, Wolf’s film is still admirable, and aided by a pretty spot on score by Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, “Teenage” feels both present and past. The interests, influence and irritations of teenagers today are still largely the same. The romance and hopes of young people are still without boundaries or dulled by practical reasoning, and that’s perhaps the biggest takeaway of the doc: that the times may change, but teenagers will forever be restless, and through that desire for more, will continue to push our world forward. Read more.
“Under the Skin”
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Criticwire Average: A-
Dan Schindel, Movie Mezzanine
All of this is channeled into Johansson’s superb performance. She is unearthly, poised like a lure on the end of an anglerfish…Sex is one of the foremost things on the movie’s mind, though it’s erotic in an entirely intellectual way most of the time. The nudity is explicit but as matter-of-fact as the aliens going about their work. But when things start to change, Johansson introduces hesitancy, uncertainties, and curiosity into her body language. While saying very little, she conveys endless complexities. Read more.