The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
Jared Leto, the Academy Awards race’s current odds-on favorite for best supporting actor, has been on our screens for nearly 20 years, delivering impressive turns in “Prefontaine” and “Requiem for a Dream.” But until he underwent yet another stunning physical transformation as the transgender heroine Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club” last year, he’d been largely absent from the big screen, devoting his time and creative energies to his band, 30 Seconds to Mars.
With the documentary “Artifact” the 42-year-old Leto — working under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins — explains how he spent a chunk of that time, and much of it wasn’t pretty. Having earned a following with two albums and successful international tours, 30 Seconds to Mars was set to record the band’s third album in 2008 when they were socked with a $30 million lawsuit from their label, EMI/Virgin. The fact that the number coincided with the group’s name, an executive insists in the film, was just a coincidence.
Along with co-producer Emma Ludbrook, Leto chronicles the Kafka-esque legal dealings with a company that in the movie comes to symbolize all that’s wrong with modern-day record labels (both Paul McCartney and Coldplay have found shelter elsewhere), as well as the recording of the album in question, which in the course of the movie he decides to name “This Is War.” Even fans of the band who know the outcome will become instantly enmeshed in the passionate idealism evinced by Leto and his bandmates (his brother Shannon and guitarist Tomo Milicevic). But you don’t have to enjoy or even endorse 30 Seconds to Mars’s brand of arena power-pop to find this primer on 21st century music business enlightening and engaging.
“Artifact” is so highly watchable largely because of the presence of Leto, who during the time of filming presumably had no idea that “Dallas Buyers Club” would soon turn his career around. Still, viewers get a full dose of his charisma, sensitivity, feral physical beauty and supreme talent for self-invention: He goes through myriad looks in the course of the film that may not be as dramatic as Rayon but still manage to channel everyone from Kurt Cobain to glam-rock heroes.
Once you hear the Leto brothers’ family history — in which they “crawled from the banks of the Mississippi with an instrument in one hand and a fist full of food stamps in the other,” according to Jared — you’ll be rooting for him against EMI, for the Oscar and forever more. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains profanity. 104 minutes. Available via iTunes, Amazon Instant, Xbox, Playstation, Google Play and Vudu.
“Redlands” is a horror film with an arthouse aesthetic. In practical terms, what this means is that the tale — written, directed and produced by John Brian King — unfolds like one of Todd Solondz’s studies of contemporary anomie, stringing together a series of long, static shots that last several often-uncomfortable minutes before building to an explosive climax. King, a graphic designer who has created title sequences for several of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, brings a keen eye for composition, even if the look of the film is one of aesthetically impoverished sterility.
Set in Redlands, Calif., the story centers around an aspiring model, Vienna (“America’s Next Top Model” veteran Nicole Fox, who is often nude or nearly nude). Vienna works as a so-called “glamour” model, meaning that she poses for amateur photographers wanting to shoot dirty pictures in their homes. Despite the name, her job is anything but glamorous.
One of Vienna’s regular customers is Allan (Clifford Morts), a sad middle-age schlub with a cheap point-and-shoot, a resentful ex-wife and a sullen teenage daughter. With the clinical detachment of a medical examiner, “Redlands” probes the relationship between Vienna, Allan and Zach (Sam Brittan), Vienna’s indie-rocker boyfriend, who escorts her to Allan’s home as a kind of pimp/bodyguard. When Zach delivers Vienna to one of the shoots in Allan’s dungeon-like garage, he says, “You gotta admit, this [expletive] is [expletive] creepy.”
“It’s evocative,” Vienna replies. “Don’t you know anything about art?”
That exchange is, as it turns out, a pretty good summation of the film, which is both artfully evocative — of alienation, the constraints on ambition and the danger of unexpressed anger — and profoundly disturbing. One of Zach’s band’s songs, “Lost,” gets played over and over in the film, like an anthem, reinforcing the film’s mood of toxic estrangement. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity, nudity, sex and violence. 108 minutes. Available via Vimeo on Demand.
SUN DON'T SHINE
Writer-director Amy Seimetz demonstrates the incredible power of mystery in "Sun Don't Shine," her confident feature debut. As the film opens, a man and woman are fighting on the side of the road, but it's not clear why. It takes most of the movie and many cryptic conversations to work out who they are, where they're going and why they're on the run.
Kate Lyn Sheil plays Crystal, an immature young mother with no firm grasp on reality. Kentucker Audley is the slightly more savvy Leo, who has to remain constantly vigilant to ensure his girlfriend isn't absent-mindedly blowing their cover as they meander in a beat-up old car toward the Florida Keys with a gun in the glove compartment and a surprise in the trunk.
There's very little plot to go on, yet "Sun Don't Shine" never releases its tight grip on the audience's attention, thanks mostly to atmospherics. The score, much of which sounds like it's produced by a music box, manages to be both sweet and sinister. And the awful humidity practically emanates off the disheveled and hot-tempered characters as they drive along the highway.
While the sense of mood is important, the success of the movie hinges on the actors, who both deliver solid performances. At times, it's hard to discern which of these protagonists is responsible for the pair's predicament and whether either can be trusted. And both Sheil and Audley maintain a certain nebulousness of character, exposing their tenderness and flaws in equal measure.
With its oddly compatible protagonists and strong sense of place, "Sun Don't Shine" calls to mind "Badlands." Seimetz's first effort may not be as thought-provoking or haunting as Terrence Malick's drama, but she proves she's a director with vision, not to mention a writer with a deft touch. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains language, violence and sexual situations. 90 minutes. Available on iTunes and Amazon Instant.