It’s an erratic selection of new releases this week, from the semi-arthouse (international sleeper hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) to the unashamedly broad (gross-out nostalgia romp Hot Tub Time Machine )and the outright shameful (the unauthorised sequel to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko). Plus, a really quite overlooked movie from Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess — if your taste runs in that direction, of course.
Tapped by David Fincher for a 2011 remake (starring Daniel Craig), Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published 2005 book proved a sleeper hit with Australian audiences when released earlier this year. The story revolves around a 40-year-old unsolved murder, and the uncle of its victim who is convinced the murder was perpetrated by someone within the family. In order to help research his hunch, he joins forces with a disgraced journalist and a tattooed computer hacker to discover the truth behind the crime. Though the length and brutal violence were poison to some reviewers, the film was as a whole favourably received, with an 86% “Fresh” rating. “This is a capable, engaging thriller,” wrote Craig Matheison at SBS, “which ties up one mystery even as it asks another.” Alas, the local DVD and Blu-ray only arrives with minimal extras.
The promise of seeing John Cusack shake off his recent sad-sack funk and have some fun riffing on his classic ’80s teen persona set many movie fans’ expectations alight, especially with a concept as agreeably absurd as a bunch of middle-age guys who go though the titular bubbly time portal to confront their youthful selves. As the mixed response shows, however, Hot Tub Time Machine was only sporadically successful, with equal parts scatological humour and gross-out comedy but arguably not enough done with the potential of the idea. Certainly there are laughs to be had, especially from the always amusing Rob Corddry, but Cusack is again the straight man and really, couldn’t they have used Crispin Glover a little better? At the Movies’ David Stratton captured the consensus in suggesting the film is “an amiable time-waster but, given the concept, it could have been rather more than that.”
Hands up who’d be intrigued by the notion of a sequel to Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s dimension-tripping 2001 cult favourite? Sure, our hero was — spoiler alert — dead and all, but with that whole parallel universe thing going on, they could do anything with the plot, no? Well, the news that there would indeed be a sequel to the film was met with justifiable scorn, considering that Kelly, who did not own the rights to the property, was not going to be involved at all (and graciously declined to pass judgement on the producers). Finally materialising from the fog of who-cares, the straight-to-DVD S. Darko chronicles the further adventures of Donnie’s little sister, Sparkle Motion star Samantha (Davleigh Chase) — as though we needed to see them. The result, though largely unreviewed, has still earned damning responses: “The entire project seems to sweat from the exertion of its writer Nathan Atkins and director Chris Fisher,” wrote CinemaBlend’s Brian Holcomb,
“to do something — anything — to make the film worthwhile.” Ouch.
Finally this week, something of an oddity — the critically-lashed film that your editor just so happens to dearly love, Jared Hess’ sci-fi comedy Gentlemen Broncos. This third feature from the Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre director was theatrically released almost a year ago in the US, where it bombed and swiftly disappeared, skipping local cinemas altogether. That’s something of a shame. Although definitely not to all tastes, those who appreciate genuine oddity in character — as opposed to irony and mocking — may want to have a look at this film. Chronicling the misadventures of a young fantasy novelist (Michael Angarano) who gets plagiarised by a self-absorbed, creatively bereft superstar (Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement), Broncos is a very Hess cocktail of sci-fi allusion, curious sartorial choices and unexpectedly genuine heart. Plus, Sam Rockwell gets to dress like a ’70s sci-fi Jesus and ride a taxidermy deer spacecraft. You didn’t see that in Moon.