Indie Stream: Catch 'Last Days on Mars' Ahead of Its Theatrical Debut

Nick Wall

Two James Franco-directed films will also premiere online.

The Last Days on Mars, a well-reviewed sci-fi thriller with big name stars (Liev Schreiber and Olivia Williams), is yet another sign of just how big the pre-theatrical VOD market has become. The movie tells the story of a research crew that stumbles upon fossilized evidence of bacterial life at the end their six month mission to Mars. What begins as a claustrophobic study of wary scientists, quickly turns into a frenzied battle for survival.

Reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter back in May, David Rooney called Mars an “atmospheric chiller that unleashes zombie peril in space.” The mostly positive review found the script lacking at times, but the “unapologetically derivative sci-fi outing” was “reasonably gripping nonetheless.“

Magnet Releasing is giving director Ruairi Robinson’s outer space film five weeks on VOD in an effort to generate some buzz before its theatrical release in December. This is a similar distribution strategy to what Magnet’s parent company, Magnolia Pictures, recently tried with their heady sci-fi flick Mr. Nobody.

INDIE STREAM:  Four Years Later, Sci-Fi Mindbender 'Mr. Nobody' Gets a Release

Two new films directed by James Franco, As I Lay Dying and Sal, hit theaters today, while they are simultaneously released across all VOD formats (both were available on iTunes all last week). Many think of Franco as a novice director, but the Oscar-nominated actor is already in production on his ninth feature film as a director.

Sal is a film about Sal Mineo, the actor of Rebel Without a Cause fame. Instead of the cradle-to-grave approach of many biopics, Franco and screenwriter Stacey Miller focus on the period immediately before Mineo’s untimely death in 1976, when he was stabbed to death on his walk home from rehearsals. Sal was Franco’s fifth feature and is similar to many of his other early films – shot extremely quickly and cheaply, with a loose narrative structure.

Sal: Venice Film Review

While reviews for As I Lay Dying are mixed, the film clearly shows Franco is growing as a director. His adaptation of William Faulkner has impressed many, including THR’s Todd McCarthy:

“James Franco has pulled off a devilishly difficult literary adaptation with this faithful yet cinematically vibrant version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.  Like the multiple English master’s degree holder he is, Franco, with co-scripter Matt Roger, has wrestled to the ground the author’s fragmented, multi-voiced tale of the ordeal an impoverished Mississippi family endures to bury its matriarch and emerged with something many have tried but few have delivered, a worthy screen adaptation of Faulkner.  A rarified art film all the way, one that will divide even brainy students and specialized cinema types, this is by a long way (Franco’s) best.”

"As I Lay Dying': Cannes Review

Last week saw two highly anticipated films from France hit iTunes. Bastards, from beloved auteur Claire Denis, is a modern day film noir inspired by recent sex ring scandals. Although it won largely positive reviews at Cannes, TIFF and the New York Film Festival, Bastards failed to crack the top 150 on iTunes. On the other hand, Renoir, the French entry this year for Best Foreign Language film, finishes the week at number five on the iTunes chart of the most downloaded foreign films.