Carancho (Axiom Films) is the latest movie from Argentinian director Pablo Trapero, whose previous credits include the excellent prison drama Lion’s Den.
Carancho (which translates as ‘Vulture’) sees the filmmaker reunite with Lion’s Den star Martina Gusman, who appears as Lujan, an idealistic doctor who finds herself unsettled by the darker side of Buenos Aires life after moving to the big city. Working as a night-shift paramedic, it isn’t long before Lujan crosses paths with Sosa (Ricardo Darín, The Secret In Their Eyes), an ambulance-chasing personal injury attorney who is currently plying his trade with a local firm infamous for their questionable ethics. His tenacity has seen him dubbed ‘Carancho’ by the city’s emergency responders, and he proves similarly single-minded in his romantic pursuit of the suspicious Lujan.
As Argentina’s official submission as Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, Carancho already boasts solid credentials, and world cinema fans will be thrilled to see the involvement of both Gusman and Darin, both of whom impressed with their aforementioned roles in Lion’s Den and The Secret In Their Eyes. Carancho is a similarly impressive piece of work, riddled with violent moments and flecked with noir-ish touches. Although the narrative is slightly uneven, with the self-consciously gritty flavour of melodrama likely to prove too overwhelming for some tastes, Carancho is an evocative drama with a truly emphatic conclusion. A welcome addition to the Latin American canon.
As Catch .44 (Anchor Bay) begins a bickering trio of petty criminals –Tes (Malin Akerman, Watchmen), Kara (Nikki Reed, Twilight) and Dawn (Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood) – are dispatched by sleazy drug kingpin Mel (Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction) to rural Louisiana to intercept a lucrative drug deal. Despite harbouring more than a few reservations over the assignment – their last job ended badly – it doesn’t seem to pose too many problems for them. Inevitably, the rendez-vous quickly degenerates into carnage, and Tes is forced to work out whether what went down was just bad luck or whether sinister forces are at play. The already-messy situation is complicated further by the sudden appearance of the chameleonic killer Ronny (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland), who also has a vested interest in what is going down, as well as a peculiar shared history with one of the protagonists.
The fact that Bruce Willis has now made two straight-to-DVD releases on the trot – he also starred in the dubious Set Up last year – should be a worrying sign, and if it wasn’t for his upcoming roles in trademark blockbusters like A Good Day To Die Hard and GI Joe: Retaliation, it would be easy to assume that his star was on the wane. Resembling a cadaverous lounge lizard, Willis looks interesting here, but his role is anything but. In fact the most ‘interesting’ Willis-related moment is when one of the characters, oh-so-ironically, puts on a Bruce Willis tape. Yawn.
Catch .44 is slick and (reasonably) watchable, but dangerously in thrall to Quentin Tarantino’s movie playbook. From the trash-talking, pistol-packing females to the diner shootout and the disjointed back-and-forth narrative, the movie wears its interests on its blood-stained sleeve, but never actually brings anything particularly memorable to the table. Even worse, the jagged narrative takes on a wearying, repetitive quality, and fails to disguise the torturous pace of the film. Utterly inessential.
The events depicted in War of the Dead (Momentum) take place two years after a spate of Nazi-fuelled ‘Anti-Death’ experiments on captured Russian soldiers. Although the project was abandoned, with all records destroyed (on the orders of Adolf Hitler), the project’s enduring reputation casts a dark shadow over war-time Europe. At the movie’s outset an elite squad of US soldiers join forces with their Finnish counterparts on a mission to seek out and destroy the bunker where the experiments took place, along with any remaining inhabitants. Barely surviving an ambush en route to their target, the Allies are subsequently horrified to realise that the rumours were true, and that they are now on a collision course with the same soldiers that they have already killed…
Tagged with the dubious claim-to-fame that it was ‘the most expensive film ever shot on location in Lithuania(!)’ War of the Dead’s reputation is hardly going to set the world on fire. Weirdly, it explores almost identical territory to 2008’s above-average Outpost, but with a stranger cast – not least Mark Wingett, the man best known for spending 20 years playing Jim Carver in The Bill. With shades of both Dog Soldiers and Dead Snow – which like Outpost are both cult movies in their own right – War of the Dead arguably has the ingredients to appeal to horror fans, but its cobbled-together approach does it few favours, imbuing it with an unfortunate ramshackle quality. Bullet-strewn zombie carnage never really goes out of vogue, but ultimately War of the Dead lacks the chops to tap into a wider audience.