The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
It was a little surprising when “Cuban Fury,” which had an April theatrical release in many cities, suddenly disappeared from the slate of local offerings just days before its Washington area release. The amiable comedy about a chubby loser named Bruce (Nick Frost) who uses salsa dancing to win over his lady love (Rashida Jones) from a sleazy rival (Chris O’Dowd) was certainly no worse than a lot of films that actually make it into area theaters before shuffling out of town in shame.
“Cuban Fury” has considerably more going for it than many entries in the underdog rom-com genre — namely, lots of dancing, including a funny dance-off between Frost and O’Dowd in a parking garage. Then there’s the charming, likeable cast, which features Ian McShane as a crusty dance instructor who encourages his former protégé (Frost) — a salsa prodigy who gave up competitive dancing after he was bullied as a boy — to dust off his salsa shoes. Even O’Dowd, who plays an obnoxious, sexually predatory dirtbag, is kind of adorable.
But what really sold me on the film is Kayvan Novak in the supporting role of Bejan, a flamboyantly gay Iranian salsa aficionado who befriends Frost’s character, offering him moral support and sympathy. Novak isn’t well known in America; his highest-profile role so far may be the inept terrorist Waj in the 2010 British farce “Four Lions.” But his sweet, often hilarious turn in “Fury” accomplishes a neat trick by managing to be both outrageous and grounded at the same time. Bejan is a hoot.
Is the movie, directed by James Griffiths from a script by fellow sitcom vet Jon Brown, silly? You bet. Like the very idea of Frost as a loose-limbed twinkle-toes, it’s not meant to be anything other than fun. (Most of Frost’s moves are pretty obviously done by a stunt double anyway.)
But as O’Dowd’s Drew says, derisively, of the earnestness with which everyone else in the movie seems to treat competitive salsa, “How can you take something so seriously that’s named after a dip?” -- M.O.
LOST FOR LIFE
“Lost for Life,” a documentary that became available on iTunes this summer, is a paradigm-shifting movie, the kind that viewers may well begin watching thinking they feel one way about a particular issue, but emerge with radically altered views.
The issue in this case is mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court two years ago and now are being contested on a state-by-state basis. Most teenagers sentenced to life without parole have committed heinous crimes, often with youthful remorselessness, which makes it difficult to sympathize with them as they languish behind bars. But this enlightening portrait, focusing on four such offenders, raises deep questions not just about the efficacy of lifetimes spent in jail, but also the social and philosophical underpinnings of such sentences and the possibility of rehabilitation, forgiveness and redemption.
Directed with straightforward frankness by first-time filmmaker Joshua Rofe, “Lost for Life” — which was produced by Ted Leonsis and his colleagues at SnagFilms — begins on an appropriately sobering note, with the graphic autopsy photo of a teenage murder victim named Cassie, who in 2006 was mercilessly stabbed to death by two of her Idaho schoolmates. Brian, here a bespectacled young man of 21, explains how he and his best friend, Torey, came to target Cassie, whom he had videotaped earlier that day in a chilling encounter by her locker. Invoking the Columbine murders and “Scream” movies, the two made Cassie the scapegoat for all the social torments they had suffered as class outsiders.
In “Lost for Life,” Brian makes a convincing case that he’s accountable for his deed, admitting that, at first, he insisted he wasn’t involved but now is able to tell the truth, including to his heartbroken parents. Torey, however, isn’t nearly as transparent. A prison interview with him and his family suggests they’re still in the denial phase of coming to terms with his actions. “I just feel like I’m paying for someone else’s mistakes at this point,” Torey says. Research into the plasticity of teenaged brains might back him up, but one senses that he has yet to undertake a necessary and difficult moral journey.
“Lost for Life” continues to explore the continuum leading from self-justification to genuine remorse, nowhere more persuasively than in interviews with Jacob, a sensitive, articulate man in his early 30s who killed his mother and stepfather in 1992. As the details of the crime come to light, extenuating circumstances begin to pile up — examples of the abuse, trauma and indifference that so often lie at the root of youth offenders’ most violent crimes.
Rofe does an excellent job balancing his obvious compassion for his subjects with constant reminders of what they did, either in the form of shocking photographic evidence or the testimony by a representative of a victims-rights organization. “Lost for Life” doesn’t provide easy answers, but it leaves viewers asking necessary questions, especially, as one observer puts it, whether people should be forever defined by the worst thing they’ve done, especially in the throes of still-formative adolescence. It may feel cathartic to throw away the key, but whether that’s justice is another matter entirely. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains graphic disturbing images, adult themes and profanity. 75 minutes. Available on iTunes.
The story of how the sci-fi thriller “Coherence” was made is a bit more interesting than the film itself. Writer-director James Ward Byrkit provided actors with an idea of what their characters were supposed to accomplish in a given scene, and then he placed them together in a house for a few days to improvise through the story of people at a dinner party who start acting wacky when a comet passes overhead.
The experiment works intermittently. On one hand, the goings-on look authentic. The dialogue and delivery sound like discussions that would take place during a run-of-the-mill evening with friends. And when lights flash off or there’s a bump at the door, the screams are real.
On the other hand, the loose, laissez-faire approach results in inconsistent levels of suspense. The story starts out intriguingly and ends on a mind- bending note. But in between, things get convoluted and, for a time, kind of boring as the characters try to comprehend why the only other house on the block with power is inhabited by people who look just like them.
The movie is effectively shot with claustrophobic close-ups that add to the feeling of anxiety, and it has a spare, creepy score. The actors are not only game, but they also carry off their assignments ably and with occasional bouts of comedy. But none of that can make up for a story that seems to be lacking — probably because it quite literally was. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 89 minutes. Available on Amazon Instant and iTunes.
RECENTLY REVIEWED: 'Hellion' and 'All the Light in the Sky'