Arresting Swedish drama The Here After (Soda) tells the story of John (played by teen pop star Ulrik Munther), who has just been released from a juvenile detention centre for an unspecified crime.
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Rather than move to another town, John returns to his rural family home to stay with his conflicted father (Mats Blomgren) and younger brother (Alexander Nordgren) in the hope of reintegrating into society. Understandably, his fellow pupils – and the local community at large – struggle with his reappearance, and the youngster makes no effort to explain himself, and is seemingly willing to silently soak up their hate. Misfit new girl Malin (Loa Ek) is intrigued by John and his dark past, but the rest of his peers are noticeably less keen, and it isn’t long before he is faced with a rapidly intensifying campaign of aggression – which endangers everyone around him.
The Here After is a minimalist, slow-burning picture that makes effective use of its chilly rural backdrop. Poland-based Swedish director Magnus van Horn ratchets up the tension without ever really offering up any clear-cut hints as to what John has done, and who exactly he has hurt, and the sporadic snatches of detail will likely frustrate as many viewers as they hook. For a non-trained actor Munther (Sweden’s answer to Ed Sheeran, apparently!) delivers an impressively subdued performance as John, and his haunted expression suggests that he is well aware that his real sentence has only just begun.
Brit-flick fans may recall 2007’s Boy A, which explored similar territory, with a pre-Spider-Man Andrew Garfield in the lead role. For my money, The Here After isn’t quite as powerful as that film – the crime at the root of this story remains wilfully obscure – but it is an impressive piece of work nevertheless. Grim but compelling.
In Point Break (Warner Home Video) – a remake of the cult 1991 movie of the same name – young FBI agent, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey, The November Man), is tasked with infiltrating a team of thrill-seeking elite athletes – led by the charismatic Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez, Carlos). Bodhi and his posse are suspected of carrying out a spate of daring, globe-trotting robberies – all of which are seemingly linked to a set of ‘ordeals’ proposed by a dead eco-warrior named Ono Ozaki. Cue back-to-back scenes of big-wave surfing, wingsuit flying, sheer-face snowboarding, free rock climbing, and high-speed motorcycling!
This dubious remake was always going to feel like sacrilege for action movie fans of a certain age, but aside from the characters’ instantly recognisable names, the links to the original are few and far between, and the film ranks as more of a reinterpretation. To give credit where credit is due, some of the stunts are pretty jaw-dropping, but the film’s chief drawback is its grim-faced, humourless approach. Edgar Ramirez offers a solemn, brooding take on Bodhi, which suits the mood of the remake, but falls short of Patrick Swayze’s more magnetic take on the character. Co-star Luke Bracey, meanwhile, lacks Keanu Reeves’ knockabout enthusiasm, and feels like a hard figure to root for.
The glum mood is probably best typified by Ray Winstone’s oddly muted turn as Angelo Pappas, which offers none of Gary Busey’s madcap charisma, and generally finds him loitering uncomfortably, glowering and smoking. Point Break retooled for the extreme sports generation isn’t necessarily a bad idea on paper, and the action scenes are very well executed, but ultimately this stodgy re-tread feels pointless and weirdly joyless.
In Grimsby (Sony) – the movie previously known as The Brothers Grimsby – Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen, Ali G) is a sweet-natured but dim-witted football hooligan who lives in the titular fishing town with his nine children and his besotted girlfriend Dawn (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect). Despite living in domestic bliss, Nobby still yearns for his little brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong, Kick-Ass), who Nobby hasn’t seen for 28 years – after they were separated as kids. Sebastian, however, has followed a very different path, and now works as one of MI6’s deadliest assassins. Inevitably, his mission to foil an imminent global terrorist attack is complicated by the hapless Nobby’s sudden re-emergence, and the two brothers embark on an increasingly bizarre globe-trotting caper.
The action-comedy is an awkward beast to pull off, and unfortunately Sacha Baron Cohen falls well short of the required standard with this lukewarm effort. Grimsby is portrayed in an unflattering manner that would even elicit groans of sympathy from residents of Kazakhstan, and the post-Shameless working class shtick feels as stale as most of the jokes. Borat and Bruno both struck comedy gold as a result of Baron Cohen’s willingness to insert his characters into awkward real-life situations, whereas Grimsby relies solely on its B-movie plot to generate amusing scenes.
Sure, Grimsby is intermittently funny, but a worrying amount of the gags were downright cringe-worthy. The climax – which plays out against the backdrop of a successful English football tournament (!) – is especially unfortunate, given England’s recent on-field displays, and even this manages to contribute to the weird, unconvincing mood. Watchable, but disappointing.
The oddest release of the week is undeniably Asian Connection (Soda Pictures), which stars an impressively swollen Steven Seagal as Thai drug lord Gan Sirankiri! No, I can barely believe it either, and I have actually watched it! A pair of cocky expatriates, Jack and Sam, unwittingly steal Sirankiri’s money when they rob a small-town bank in Cambodia and quickly become the target of the mobster’s vengeance. The duo are swiftly pressed into service as bank robbers by one of Sirankiri’s duplicitous stooges – lest the big man unleash hell on them – and a bullet-strewn cat-and-mouse game ensues.
Committed Seagal fans will have witnessed similar atrocities over the last decade, and at least this effort gets him away from his increasingly drab Eastern European stomping ground for a while. With a clunky script and an amateurish cast, Asian Connection is pretty bloody appalling! Happily, Seagal makes no attempt at a Thai accent, and only his chunky Thai medallion and voluminous tunic suggest he isn’t on home territory. Asian Connection is an extremely weird release from the normally excellent arthouse label Soda, but it does earn a bonus point for the tag-line ‘The Beast is in the East’!
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Strangerland (Kaleidoscope) is set in the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, where the lives of Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) are flung into chaos when they discover that their two teenage children Tommy and Lily have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits. Menacing cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving) leads the search for the missing youngsters, and the town slowly begins to turn against the Parkers… Kidman puts in an admirably committed performance, in what is apparently her first independent Australian feature since 1989’s Dead Calm, but it isn’t quite enough to shine through the stifling, desolate mood which envelops the film like the dust storm. Strangerland’s strongest feature – the suffocating atmosphere – is also its main weakness, and the stodgy narrative quickly lapses into grief-stricken melodrama.
In The Disappearance – The Complete Series (Arrow Films/Nordic Noir & Beyond) Julien and Florence find themselves in every parent’s worst nightmare when their daughter Lea, a promising straight A-student, goes missing after attending a music festival in Lyon. While Florence tries to maintain a semblance of normality for her other two children, Julien embarks on a mission to find Lea, after holding himself personally responsible. Meanwhile, lead investigator Inspector Molina leaves no stone unturned, and everybody’s deepest, darkest secrets gradually come tumbling out into the open. If you enjoyed the first series of home-grown mystery Broadchurch and the Anglo-French crowd-pleaser The Missing, The Disappearance is likely to hold a degree of appeal. The twists come thick and fast, and while some of the plot developments drag the narrative into unashamed soap opera territory – and stretch the show’s credibility to breaking point – it is slick and well made for the most part.