Summer 2014. It's a silly season that will go down in infamy. In fact, if you're to believe all the moaning and groaning coming out of Hollywood, this was the worst summer blockbuster season ever, as domestic audiences increasingly turned away from the multiplexes and stayed home and binged on Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and Orange is the New Black. However, the truth of the matter is, internationally Hollywood probably had one of its best years ever, and these days all the real dough is made overseas. As for the war on the home-viewing front, things aren't quite that dreadful for Tinsel Town. Yes, Netflix may have won the internet streaming battle of 2013-14, but Hollywood has intensified its "on demand" offerings, many of which are being released at home before hitting the theaters. Here are a few of our recent faves.
The One I Love
Starring Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ted Danson
Directed by Charlie McDowell
Way back in 2012, Mark Duplass was in a little bit of everything, from an all-star family melodrama (Darling Companion) to a indie rom-com (Your Sister's Sister) to a lo-fi sci-fi flick (Safety Not Guaranteed) to a major-studio directorial effort (Jeff, Who Lives at Home). Since then the mumblecore multi-hyphenate has successfully transitioned to TV with parts on The League and The Mindy Project. The One I Love marks Duplass' most high-profile film in two years, and he's joined by Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss. Together the pair portray a husband and wife on the outs who head to the countryside to reconnect at the behest of their marriage counselor (Ted Danson). There, they find a guest cabin that ... well, we're not going to spoil what's in that cabin. Like the earlier Safety Not Guaranteed, The One I Love is exactly the kind of navel-gazing, dialogue-driven sci-fi movie that Duplass himself may have written — it's brainy without feeling like a dissertation, it's charmingly cynical without being smug, and it's plot twisty without feeling like an M. Night Shyamalan hangover.
Starring Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Eve Plumb
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's 2013 Fipresci Prize, Blue Ruin is perhaps the bleakest film to be released in 2014, and it marks the emergence of what could be a powerful new writer-director, Jeremy Sauliner, of the little seen 2007 horror-com Murder Party. This stark revenge fantasy follows a homeless man named Dwight (Macon Blair) as he seeks to bring justice to those who took the lives of his mother and father. What largely follows is less a quiet meditation on how violence only begets violence, than it is an almost comical exploration of the banality of everyday murder. Who knew that the squishy sound of a man stabbing another man alone would be so unnerving? Anchored by the haunting, single-minded performance of the everyman-esque Blair, Blue Ruin is a blood-letting of despair.
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Nicolas Winding Refn
Directed by Frank Pavich
We'll put this bluntly: Alejandro Jodorowsky's version of the Frank Herbert sci-fi novel Dune would have been the single-most fucked up movie ever made. It would have bombed at the box office and probably ended the career of every single person associated with it. But it would have been a failure the likes of which the cinematic world had never seen before. Frank Pavich's engrossing documentary Jodorowsky's Dune looks at the charismatic Chilean filmmaker's face-plant foray into 2001: A Space Odyssey territory. Bringing together the best of the best — from the larger-than-life personalities of leads (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, David Carradine) to designers (French illustrator Moebius, Alien creature creator H.R. Giger) to musicians (Pink Fucking Floyd), Jodorowsky intended to make a movie that wouldn't just be great to watch while high — it would get you fucking higher than you've ever been before. Put this in your queue and smoke it now.
The Zero Theorem
Starring Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Gwendoline Christie
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Former Python and noted fantasy director Terry Gilliam seemingly returns to WTF form with The Zero Theorem. Fans of Gilliam's oh-so-great Orwellian comedy Brazil will surely find something to like here — that is if the deja vu doesn't deep-six their enjoyment. Starring Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz, The Zero Theorem follows Qohen Leah, a microserf slaving his days away in an office that looks less like a cubicle farm than a hoity-toity hobo rave in an arcade of schizophrenic video game machines. When Management (Matt Damon) finally gives Qohen the A-OK to work from home, the computer hacker's life goes from surreal what-what to batshit cray-cray. While The Zero Theorem is just mediocre Gilliam — the mumbled, machine-gun dialogue alone makes the already difficult script even more difficult to follow — it's a testament to the director's unique vision and satirical wit.
Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ah-sung Ko
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Snowpiercer is an admirable film in this era of hollow Hasbro sci-fi and made-for-TV Marvel comic book epics. But does it deserve the hype that has been bestowed upon it? Well, for the most part, yes. This futuristic actioner about a group of have-nots fighting their way to the front of the titular train — itself the home to every man, woman, and child on the planet — is moody, it's profound, it's stylish, it's heavy on metaphors, and it's funny. However, Joon-ho Bong's American studio debut has an ending that makes the near-fatal mistake of recapping everything that happened before and then explaining what it all means. You'll know the train has reached the end of the line when Ed Harris shows up and shats on all that came before it. Still, Chris Evans delivers a solid performance, Bong's favorite leading man Kang-ho Song (The Host) is a drugged-out badass, and Tilda Swinton is virtually unrecognizable and horrifyingly hilarious.