1. The Broken Circle Breakdown (Directed by Felix Van Groeningen. Starring Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh)
For fans of: Blue Valentine, taut romances, foreign language films
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $3.99
Felix Van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown isn't so much a film that demands to be seen as one that demands to be felt. Released in Belgium in 2012, The Broken Circle Breakdown didn't have its North American premiere until 2013 at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, where it took home awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress. Now, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, The Broken Circle Breakdown is finally available on all VOD platforms.
Though the film employs a unique narrative timeline that jumps back and forth between the past and present, it's a classic love story at heart. Punkish, tattooed Elise meets gruff, banjo-toting, bluegrass-loving cowboy Didier and it's basically love at first sight. But, as the film's heavy opening reveals, Didier and Elise are going to go through things that will test the boundaries of their relationship and force them to reflect on deeper meanings of life and love. Maybelle, their 6-year-old daughter, develops a particularly nasty form of bone marrow cancer. Her subsequent death shatters them.
The heartbroken couple leans on each other to try and get by. They perform in the same bluegrass band, and, as their group rises in popularity, Didier and Elise struggle to move on from Maybelle's death. But the death of their daughter causes a major rift that soon becomes irreparable: Elise turns to religion to help her cope, while Didier is a staunch atheist who blames a religion-obsessed society for hindering the medical breakthroughs in stem cell research that could've cured Maybelle.
Drenched in Americana imagery — right down to the shared love of American bluegrass and country music that initially brings the couple together — The Broken Circle Breakdown is a gorgeously shot, superbly acted heartbreaker. While Groeningen doesn't hold back in delivering emotional blows, it never comes off as manipulative. This is love in its most vulnerable state.
2. Love & Air Sex (Directed by Brian Poyser. Starring Ashley Bell, Michael Stahl-David, Sara Paxton)
For fans of: Indie comedies, romantic comedies
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99
Can an indie film that looks, feels, and plays out like a traditional Hollywood rom-com retain any part of its indie cred? It's an unusual challenge — but that's the admirable feat that Brian Poyser pulls off in his raunchy new rom-com Love & Air Sex. By placing its conventional narrative within the absurd world of Air Sex Competitions— in which participants with, um, "colorful" pseudonyms pantomime their best sexual routines (while clothed!) on a stage in front of audiences and a panel of judges — the film offers an engaging twist on a familiar genre.
Love & Air Sex opens in true rom-com fashion: A hackneyed montage in which Stan (Michael Stahl-David) meets Cathy (Ashley Bell), falls in love, and then loses her when Cathy is accepted to grad school in New York City. Not long after Cathy leaves, Stan decides to do the same, and heads from Texas to Los Angeles to try and break into the entertainment business. Cut to six months later. Stan is a mopey train-wreck still obsessed with the disintegration of his relationship with Cathy — and after some Facebook stalking reveals that Cathy is headed back to Austin for a weekend to visit friends, Stan quickly purchases his own plane ticket back home in hopes of "bumping" into her and getting his life back in order.
Taking place over the course of the weekend — during which Stan's crude, brazen friends are preparing their routines for a weekend-long Air Sex Competition at the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse — both Stan and Cathy are pressured into hooking up with other people to help them get over each other. Cathy meets a hunky, charming veteran, while Stan is enamored by a musician he meets on the street. Both are reluctant to act on their impulses as feelings for each other are still clouding their judgment.
Poyser keeps the stakes low with Love & Air Sex, which makes it a smarter and more compelling film than it might sound like on paper. The romantic entanglements aren't shrugged off with rote, poorly written stock characters. Instead, Poyser keeps things modest and realistic. This is a film that feels real — which is all the more impressive, considering that it's centered on the act of faking it.
3. Nurse 3D (Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski. Starring Paz De La Huerta, Katrina Bowden)
For fans of: Russ Meyer and Roger Corman, erotic thrillers, midnight movies
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99
Nurse 3D — which you'll see in only two dimensions if you don't have a 3D TV — is a sleazy, stylish erotic thriller that skirts the line between disingenuous pandering and genuinely enjoyable art-trash. It's deliberately engineered for cult appeal, but does it deserve it?
That depends almost entirely on where you set the bar. Director Douglas Aarniokoski co-writes and directs the always entertaining Paz De La Huerta as a sexy seductress who works as a nurse, but moonlights as a serial killer, intent on issuing feminine-heavy justice to scumbag men. Employing first person narration as the primary storytelling device, Aarniokoski introduces us to De La Huerta's character, Abby Russell. In the film's opening scene, Abby murders a married man hitting on her at a nightclub while her narration explains that it's her "job" to "keep scum off of the streets." Her day job, of course, is at a nearby hospital, where she's one of the top nurses. Her double life seems safe — until her infatuation with new coworker Danni (Katrina Bowden) unravels her composure and exposes her deepest and darkest secrets.
What starts as an innocent work friendship evolves into something way more insidious: Abby takes Danni out for some drinks at a posh nightclub, drugs her, and snaps some incriminating shots of her in a threesome. The film eventually goes into full-on Basic Instinct mode when Abby toys with Danni by threatening to show the incriminating photos to her boyfriend (Corbin Bleu). When Danni discovers who Abby really is, she does everything she can to get the authorities to believe her wild story — but Abby is always one step ahead.
Yes, Nurse 3D is as schlocky as they come. The film is designed to deliver a steady stream of nudity and gore, and Aarniokoski is shameless in his presentation of both. But while Aarniokoski clearly demonstrates an appreciation for the B-movie directors who paved the way for his film — there'd be no Nurse 3D without Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! — the film is ultimately too self-aware to be placed on the same mantle as its forefathers. Nurse 3D's femme fatale-centric plot is ultimately just filler between nude scenes — but if all you're looking for is breasts and blood, this might be your Citizen Kane.
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