1. Alan Partridge (Directed by Declan Lowney. Starring Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney)
For fans of: In The Loop, Veep, wry British comedies
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $9.99
After appearing in two radio series, three TV series, numerous TV and radio specials, and even "writing" a fake autobiography, you'd think Alan Partridge would've become a film years ago. But considering how easy it is to butcher a beloved small screen character on the big screen — remember all those terrible SNL movies from the '90s? — it's probably a good thing that the creators of the famed British character waited for the right opportunity.
Alan Partridge is a character created by Steve Coogan (who also plays Partridge) and Armando Iannucci (the mind behind satires like In The Loop and Veep). Partridge — a bumbling, narcissistic disc jockey — has become something of a staple in British comedy. Fortunately, Alan Partridge isn't just a fan-service film; even those who have never heard of the character will find much to enjoy.
Part of what makes Alan Partridge work so well is its modesty. The film takes place almost entirely around a radio station in Norfolk. As the film begins, Alan and Pat (Colm Meaney), one of Partridge's longtime DJ buddies, learn that the station has been sold. Alan is unfazed, but Pat is worried sick that he's going to get fired. But when Alan interrupts a board meeting and learns that it's either him or Pat that's getting the boot, he throws his buddy under the bus, not thinking twice about it.
Bad move. Later that night, Pat crashes the company party with a shotgun, holding everyone hostage. Alan manages to escape and gets the police, who then rope him into becoming a middle man for negotiations between Pat and the police. As Pat mourns the loss of his show and his late wife, Alan sees the instant publicity the whole situation is getting as a way to boost his profile and his career.
Coogan spent years mastering Alan Partridge, and it shows in the film. His quick-witted, awkwardly delivered one-liners fly by at a rapid pace, hardly leaving room to breathe. Alan Partridge is about as British as British humor gets, and those who aren't keen on that very wry sense of humor might not appreciate the film — but for those that do, it will not disappoint.
2. Almost Human (Written and directed by Joe Begos. Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh)
For fans of: '80s horror/sci-fi, The House of the Devil, John Carpenter
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99
Indie horror is in the midst of a throwback phase. It's more than just a resurrection of the techniques developed in the golden age of horror in the '70s and '80s; it's filmmakers attempting to mimic every element of the era so thoroughly that viewers will wonder if the film is new or some long-forgotten treasure from the '80s. While this style has proven successful in films like The House of the Devil and You're Next, aiming for a retro feel also has its dangers. Case in point: Joe Begos' Almost Human, a gory, grungy, lo-fi horror/sci-fi flick that tries so hard to look like a long-lost '80s film that it leaves other crucial elements — like narrative cohesion — on the cutting-room floor.
Almost Human opens in 1987, when Mark (Josh Ethier) disappears after wandering outside to investigate a mysterious blue light. Two years later, Mark reappears in the woods. It's obvious that something has changed, but it's not clear how messed up Mark really is until he embarks on a murderous rampage in an attempt to reunite with an ex-girlfriend — forcing former friend Seth (Graham Skipper) to try to stop him.
It's a rote setup for a movie, and Almost Human never bothers with backstory, which makes the characters and their relationships feel one-dimensional and pointless. Of course, that's not really the point of Almost Human; Begos is clearly a director raised on gore and camp — the films of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi are overt influences— and he's primarily interested in delivering gore. On a pure visual level, Almost Human is genuinely gross, as Mark "turns" his victims into alien-zombies through a grotesque tentacle that shoots out of his mouth and into the mouths of his male victims. And in the case of women? Let's just say Begos knows what his audience wants.
3. Sick Birds Die Easy (Directed by Nik Fackler)
For fans of: The early documentaries of Werner Herzog
How to watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $3.99
Can a film be both terrible and great at the same time? When you look at a "so bad it's good" classic like The Room or Troll 2, the answer seems obvious. But Sick Birds Die Easy — a psychedelic documentary by filmmaker Nik Fackler — is a tougher film to judge. On one level, Sick Birds Die Easy is the annoying, self-indulgent product of a bunch of pseudo-philosophical hippies who took a trip Africa just so they could track down an extremely rare, potent hallucinogenic drug.
But on another level, Sick Birds Die Easy is so self-aware that it's both bitingly funny and uniquely observant of its own shortcomings. Sick Birds Die Easy begins as Fackler convinces his "f---ed up friends" — paranoid drug dealer Ross, shady trust-fund musician Sam, and Sam's frustrated girlfriend, Emily — to travel to Africa to find the legendary iboga root, which is said to induce visions if you chew it. Fackler insists that the experience be as authentic as possible, which means a 10-kilometer hike into the jungle to meet a tribe of Pygmies and take the powerful hallucinogen as part of a spiritual ceremony.
The subjects of Sick Birds Die Easy quickly prove to be insufferable American tourists intent on gobbling up all the drugs they can get their hands on. It doesn't take long for the film's central conflict to evolve: Sam and Ross don't like each other. Ross accuses Sam of stealing his drugs and complains that he's high all the time. When Fackler reminds him that they're all high all the time, he doesn't back down: "I don't like the way they do it," he says.
Sick Birds Die Easy will be judged by many as a poorly made, incoherent student film that should never be seen outside the classroom — but Fackler employs a certain satirical, intentionally lo-fi tone that makes the film feel like some kind of cosmic parody. Yes, it's self-indulgent, but there's insight here, too: How people live life on the fringe, and what happens when you try to "fix" the people closest to you. At the very least, Sick Birds Die Easy is a sobering reminder of one of the many dangers of rampant drug use: It can make you very, very annoying to be around.