Sex, Leins & Videotape #186. Tom Leins reviews The Raid 2, Locke and Killing Season

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A second helping of Indonesian carnage dominates this week’s DVD round-up.

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Two years after The Raid earned an appreciative DVD audience with its dementedly violent story of a clean-cut cop fighting his way through a scum-ridden Jakarta tower block, its sequel The Raid 2 (EntertainmentOne) arrives on DVD.

After battling his way out of the aforementioned building, rookie cop Rama (played by former footballer/delivery driver/Silat fighter Iko Uwais) thought he could resume a normal life with his young family. Unfortunately, he couldn’t have been more wrong: his handiwork has attracted the attention of a clandestine anti-corruption task force, and he is blackmailed into infiltrating a notorious local crime family, with a view to bringing down a number of senior cops in the process.

Gangster movie, prison movie, action movie… Welsh director Gareth Evans throws everything into the mix the second time around, with varying degrees of success. The numerous action set-pieces are uniformly spectacular – and all end in gore-streaked carnage – but the mind-boggling two-and-a-half-hour run-time turns the film into something of an endurance test. Considering plans are already under way for a third instalment, Evans really could have afforded to hold something back.

While big chunks of The Raid 2 the film are superior to the first film, on the whole the sequel feels like less than the sum of its parts. While Evans’ filmmaking abilities are not in doubt, his questionable judgement undermines what should have been a top-drawer follow-up. Too much of a good thing, perhaps – but The Raid 2 is definitely a good thing. If you need a break from feeble Hollywood action fodder, the Raid movies are an enjoyably full-blooded alternative and come heavily recommended.

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Mild-mannered Ivan Locke has a perfect family and a dream job in construction, and he is working towards the crowning moment of his career – a multi-million-pound concrete pour. However, a surprise phone call forces him to make a decision that will put it all on the line… Set entirely in Ivan’s BMW, Locke (Lionsgate) follows the title character’s existential journey into the unknown, as he literally heads out of his comfort zone, from Birmingham to London, on an ill-conceived quest to vanquish his personal demons and ‘do the right thing’.

Locke writer/director Steven Knight carved himself an impressive reputation with screenplays for Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and Eastern Promises (2007), before going on to create the striking BBC period drama Peaky Blinders. He stepped behind the camera for 2013’s Hummingbird, which saw him coax Jason Statham into one of his strangest roles to date, and Locke marks his second directorial effort in quick succession.

Despite a neat premise, the heart of the story is uninvolving and tension is scraped out of the most humdrum conversations – chiefly involving cement. Tom Hardy – in one of his least showy headline roles to date – is compelling throughout, but the film is hamstrung by its own self-imposed constraints. Watchable throughout, Locke ultimately feels like an experimental short film stretched to breaking point, and ranks as a filmic footnote rather than a must-see drama.

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In Killing Season (Lionsgate) world-weary Robert De Niro plays Benjamin Ford, a military veteran who retreats to a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains to try and forget his experience in the Bosnian War.  After a chance encounter in the woods, the taciturn ex-soldier befriends a mysterious European tourist (John Travolta) who, after a boozy night of bonding, reveals that he is actually a Serbian soldier – out for revenge against the man who shot him in the back and left him for dead. What follows is a bloody, psychological game of warfare, which sees each man lose control.

Directed by the reliably average Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil, Ghost Rider), Killing Season is a turgid survival thriller that makes a hash of its laudable attempt to confront the ethical issues surrounding the legacy of genocide. With a number of jarringly gratuitous ‘torture-porn’-esque scenes scattered throughout the sluggish narrative, the tone of the film is badly uneven.

To his credit, Travolta throws himself into the ludicrous role of Emil with admirable gusto, but De Niro is extremely unconvincing as his bitter rival. 60-year-old Travolta can comfortably pass as a man ten years his junior, but 71-year-old De Niro frequently resembles a man ten years older, and the hard-fought cat and mouse game between the pair never really seems plausible. If you are after a gruelling tale of mountaintop heroism, watch Lone Survivor instead…

Charlie Chaplin

Major new project of silent film and live music events from CFF and The Poly

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Here comes the sound of silence, as those who were once Tom and Jerry used to sing. But when you say hello to the darkness it will be to welcome in ‘a major new project of silent film and live music events’, courtesy of the Cornwall Film Festival and The Poly, Falmouth, and the Film Audience Network from the British Film Institute (BFI).

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #185. Tom Leins reviews Starred Up, Deception, McCanick and Under The Skin

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Gritty prison drama Starred Up batters the other DVD releases into submission in this week’s DVD round-up.

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In Starred Up (20th Century Fox)unhinged 19-year-old Eric Love (Jack O’Connell, Eden Lake, The Runaway) is plucked out of a young offender’s institute and thrust into an adult prison two years ahead of schedule – because he is deemed unmanageable. Keen to make a name for himself, Eric wastes little time in causing a stir, and a brutal altercation with another inmate sees him attract the attention of Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend, Homeland), a volunteer counsellor who runs a discussion group for volatile prisoners with anger management issues. More troublingly, Eric is forced to confront his estranged father, Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) – a man who he hasn’t set eyes on for 14 years. With Nev disapproving of Eric’s attitude – not to mention his tentative jailhouse alliances – Eric is set on a collision course with both the prison management and the jail’s established criminal hierarchy.

Scottish director David Mackenzie has enjoyed an uneven career since making his quirky debut feature The Last Great Wilderness in 2002, with his filmography spanning the likes of Young Adam (2003), Spread (2009) and Perfect Sense (2011). Starred Up feels like a huge leap both tonally and thematically, and arguably sees him elevate his craft to the next level, with a new sense of sharpness highly apparent.  Ex-Skins actor Jack O’Connell makes the step up from promising youngster to fully-fledged leading man in memorable fashion, delivering a level of intensity comparable to Tom Hardy’s ultra-violent turn in Bronson.

Aussie character actor Ben Mendelsohn’s Cockney accent may waver, but he utterly inhabits another trademark scuzzy low-life role, after memorable stints in the likes of Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond The Pines. In truth, Starred Up is so chilling that it often feels like you are watching a horror movie rather than a prison movie. That said, the storytelling is so confident and persuasive you can’t look away for a second. Not just Jack O’Connell’s best performance to date, but also the always-interesting David Mackenzie’s career-high. One of the most gripping, disturbing movies of the year – highly recommended.

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Deception (previously known as The Best Offer) (Signature) marks the second English-language feature from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore, after 1998’s The Legend of 1900. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) is a high-end auction-house proprietor who is summoned to apprise the considerable estate of reclusive heiress Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks, Tirza). Captivated by both the antiques, and by Claire herself – despite the fact that she refuses to meet in person, and all of their exchanges are conducted by shouting through a locked door – the eccentric Virgil attempts to woo the enigmatic heiress. To help do so, Virgil enlists the help of charming young mechanic Robert (Jim Sturgess, Across The Universe), who coaches the older man in the art of seduction.

On paper, Deception’s plot sounds fairly ridiculous, and in all honesty, it is! Overlaid with heavy-handed symbolism and some weirdly clunky dialogue, the movie risks crumbling under its own sense of self-importance at every turn. In mitigation, the impressive cast’s commitment to the cause helps to elevate the endeavour above overcooked nonsense, and Geoffrey Rush has fun with Virgil’s oddball characterisation. Deception is unwieldy and over-long, but oddly compelling in spite of itself. Approach with caution.

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Set over the course of one day, crime drama McCanick (Signature) follows hardboiled veteran cop Eugene McCanick (David Morse, The Green Mile) as he hunts for a seemingly harmless young criminal who harbours a dark secret about his past. Paired with ambitious, go-getting young colleague Floyd Intrator (Mike Vogel, Under The Dome), McCanick attempts to avoid his partner’s suspicions while tracking down his elusive nemesis, Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith, Glee). As details regarding McCanick’s murky past float to the surface, his long-hoped-for reconciliation with his estranged son looks increasingly unlikely.

Driven by an impressively committed central performance from perennial supporting player David Morse, McCanick is a stodgy, unwieldy thriller that confuses poor pacing with enigmatic storytelling. If your tolerance for reheated cop clichés and slapdash storytelling is unusually high, McCanick may hit the spot. Otherwise, the film is only really noteworthy as the final screen appearance by deceased Glee actor Cory Monteith, who shows an impressive disregard for his teen-friendly reputation as a street-smart hustler. What is more, the ending is so head-scratchingly bizarre that it leaves you baffled at the by-numbers filmmaking that preceded it. With a stronger narrative underpinning it, McCanick could have been a decent little B-movie thriller. As it is, it is merely frustrating.

Film Review Under the Skin

In Under The Skin (Studio Canal) an alien entity (played by Scarlett Johansson) inhabits the earthly form of a seductive young woman and combs the Scottish highways in search of human prey. She lures a succession of lonely male victims into an otherworldly dimension where they are stripped and then consumed. However, life among the humans starts to change the alien’s perspective, and she starts to see herself as a human, with troubling and ultimately horrifying consequences.

After the stunning Sexy Beast (2000) and the dreadful Birth (2004), Under The Skin is the third feature from former music video director Jonathan Glazer. Loosely adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by Michel Faber, Glazer’s movie is an undiluted helping of art-house sci-fi. Johansson is mesmerising throughout, and the timing of her jump away from the lucrative Avengers/Marvel safety-net is extremely brave. Unfortunately, Glazer’s icy mood-piece takes on a wearying, monotonous quality as it unfolds, and the film ultimately flatters to deceive you that there is more than meets the eye bubbling under the surface. Under The Skin is unique and disquieting, but for me it was ultimately impenetrable. Disappointing.

Sex, Leins & Videotape #184. Tom Leins reviews Mistaken For Strangers and Pulp: Life, Death & Supermarkets

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It’s Battle of the Bands in this documentary double-dip: The National Vs Pulp

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Matt Berninger is the lead singer of critically adored US rock band The National. Meanwhile, his younger brother Tom is a likeable thirty-something slacker, who lives at home, listens to unfashionable ‘80s heavy metal and makes low-budget horror movies on the side. The night before The National are set to embark on their biggest tour to date, Matt invites Tom to join them as a roadie, and Tom seizes the opportunity to bring his trusty camera along for the ride. Mistaken For Strangers (Dogwoof) is the result.

As the hapless Tom tries to uncover what makes the band tick by lurking behind-the-scenes, he quickly starts aggravating the band, as well as making a hash of his responsibilities as a roadie. The experience prompts an existential meltdown in the happy-go-lucky younger brother, and he muses on the pressure of living in his successful big brother’s shadow – before vowing to knuckle down and weave together his footage to deliver a documentary that Matt can be proud of.

After enduring the torturous art-fart that was 2008’s documentary A Skin, A Night, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to hear that The National was the focus of another offbeat, potentially indulgent film project. Thankfully, Mistaken For Strangers is a far more fully realised endeavour. Goofy younger brother Tom is the star of the show, and his neuroses are laid bare in charming fashion. Matt Berninger proves to be a great sport too, even if the two brothers often seem like they are playing exaggerated versions of themselves, rather than giving a true depiction of their relationship.

Despite seemingly being aimed squarely at The National fans, Mistaken For Strangers sheds little in the way of new light on the enigmatic band and its creative processes. That said, it’s a sweet-natured, quirkily entertaining depiction of sibling rivalry, and definitely worth a look-in.

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In 2012 Britpop heroes Pulp returned to their hometown of Sheffield for what seems likely to be their last ever UK concert. Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets (Soda Pictures) examines the band’s homecoming, and mixes live footage with the band’s musings on their idiosyncratic career. Also included are contributions from a number of disparate Pulp fans who have been buttonholed by the director in and around Sheffield city centre. Suffice to say, the latter interviews are the worst segments of the film, and generally feel either unconvincing or uncomfortable, and add little to the narrative.

Frontman Jarvis Cocker is credited with the ‘concept’ of the film, although he sought out New Zealand-based filmmaker Florian Habicht to direct proceedings, after enjoying his 2011 art-house movie Love Story. Unfortunately, the duo’s obsession with hammering home the affection that locals have for Pulp undermines the film, and some of the aforementioned ‘freak-of-the week’ talking heads backfire badly.

In their hey-day Pulp were a genuinely fascinating band – with a great story to tell – and it’s unfortunate that so much of their career is given short shrift in Life, Death & Supermarkets. For example, we hear very little about how the era-defining Different Class catapulted them to fame twelve years after the release of their inauspicious debut album It. Similarly, the dark fallout that prompted 1998’s follow-up This Is Hardcore is more or less ignored, leaving fans none the wiser about the issues that derailed the band’s dominance of the indie scene.

In truth, with so much of their career merely skimmed over, Life, Death & Supermarkets feels like something of a wasted opportunity, and in many ways a slightly more traditional approach may have yielded a more satisfying end-product. That said, the unexpected scenes in which locals break into song – particularly the café full of elderly people singing ‘Help The Aged’ – definitely hit the spot. All in all, a mixed-bag.

 

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