Category Archives: Sex, Leins & Videotape

Tom Leins, Devon’s best film reviewer, takes a look at the latest DVD releases

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

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…

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

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

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.

 

Sex, Leins & Videotape #182. Tom Leins reviews Lone Survivor, RoboCop and Non-Stop

Navy SEALS in peril, crime and punishment in Detroit and heroism at high altitude – this week’s biggest DVDs reviewed.

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Based on the bestselling book of the same name,the gut-wrenching Lone Survivor (Universal) examines the botched military mission that took place in Afghanistan in 2005, under the Operation Redwings banner.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #181: the rise and rise of Matthew McConaughey.

Tom Leins reviews True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club.

After impressing with early roles in A Time To Kill and Lone Star, Matthew McConaughey had Hollywood at his mercy, and took on a series of eclectic if ultimately forgettable projects.  Somewhere around the turn of the century he lapsed into rom-com purgatory, a cinematic ghetto he struggled to escape from for a hefty chunk of his career. After a decade of increasingly dispiriting romantic comedies, McConaughey was forced to take stock of his situation and started turning down easy pay-cheques in an effort to reinvent himself. After a two-year break he resurfaced with acclaimed crime drama The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011, going on to notch up leftfield credits in the likes of Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike (all 2012). His hot-streak shows no sign of slowing down, and 2013/14 saw him hit dizzy new heights with Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective.

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The latest TV series to roll off the enviable HBO production line, True Detective (HBO Home Entertainment)sees McConaughey star asLouisiana State Police Detective Rustin ‘Rust’ Cohle, who is brought in – alongside estranged colleague Martin Hart (Harrelson) – to revisit a bizarre ritualistic murder that they worked on back in 1995. The investigation unfolds through the two men’s separate interrogations, and the tormented ex-cops find themselves dragged back into the murky case that has haunted them ever since, prompting them to take the law into their own hands in a bid to achieve closure.

Created and written by cult author Nic Pizzolatto – whose previous TV experience was limited to two episodes of the US version of The Killing – True Detective unfolds over eight gripping hours, and sees both McConaughey and Harrelson deliver pitch-perfect career-high performances. Despite his relative lack of experience in the TV world, Pizzolatto has weaved together a dense, allusive yarn that avoids easy answers and probes uncomfortable depths in an attempt to get under its protagonists’ skins.

Part noir thriller, part incisive character study, True Detective is evocative and impeccably crafted throughout. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga – whose debut feature Sin Nombre marked him out as a talent to keep an eye on – also delivers the goods, and has boosted his reputation considerably. McConaughey’s hot streak ensures that he will earn most of the plaudits as boozy, burned-out nihilist Rust, but Harrelson’s barely restrained Hart is also exceptional, adding light and shade to his similarly intense work in gritty recent fare such as Rampart and Out of the Furnace.

Bleak, aggressive and provocative, True Detective is easily the best US TV show of the year so far. Miss out at your peril.

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The release of True Detective coincides with that of Dallas Buyers Club (eOne), the movie that earned man-of-the-moment McConaughey a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. The film examines the life and times of Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) whose free-wheeling life is overturned when he’s diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. Determined to outrun his fate by any means possible, Woodroof decides to take matters in his own hands by tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. After finding an unlikely ally in Rayon (Jared Leto, who won the Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor), he establishes a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club’ and unites a band of outcasts in a struggle for dignity and acceptance.

McConaughey is increasingly comfortable taking risks that few of his contemporaries seem willing to match, and it is hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Woodroof quite as convincingly. Indeed over the preceding two decades, Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling were all attached to the project as it languished in development hell. Leto, who seemingly drops in and out of Hollywood between albums with his all-consuming musical side-project Thirty Seconds To Mars, is similarly impressive as Rayon, and reaffirms his position as one of contemporary cinema’s most intriguing stars.

After gaining 67lbs for his role in Chapter 27, the underrated biography of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, method actor Leto lost 30lbs to play Rayon – a feat improbably bettered by McConaughey who shed 47lbs to better depict his character’s decline. The actors’ respective commitment to the cause tells you everything that you need to know about the dark drama at the heart of the film – not to mention the grim history lesson it shines a light on. Unique and persuasive, Dallas Buyers Club is an important movie that grips throughout, without ever coming across as sanctimonious. Hugely impressive.

 

 

Sex, Leins & Videotape #180. Tom Leins reviews Out of the Furnace, Inside Llewyn Davis and Wish You Were Here

Blue collar violence, thwarted beatniks and deceit Down Under – Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest DVDs.

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Directed by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace (Lionsgate) is a bloody, sweaty drama that examines the violent lengths that some men will go to in order to survive in a ravaged steel industry town.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale, The Machinist) works a dead-end job trying to make ends meet so he can support his long-suffering girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) and his ailing father. After returning from active duty in Iraq, Russell’s tormented younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) gets involved with a bareknuckle fight club run by demented hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, Rampart) and his crime syndicate. When Rodney fails to come home after a fight, Russell puts his own life on the line in order to investigate.

Originally conceived as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio – with Ridley Scott attached as director – Out of the Furnace hasn’t obviously suffered as a result of the high profile withdrawals, with a haunted-looking Christian Bale giving a typically committed lead performance. He is joined by a top-notch cast, including Willem Dafoe, Forest Whittaker and Sam Shepard, although sole female cast member of note Saldana is shamefully underused in a superfluous supporting role.

The first half of the movie is excellent: brutal and unpredictable, but it loses its way as the narrative unfolds, and the climactic showdown feels disappointingly unimaginative. Considering the A-list cast, it is a shame that Out of the Furnace can only muster a B-movie plot. All in all, a good solid thriller, albeit one that doesn’t quite deliver the level of complexity that the bold casting suggests.

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Inside Llewyn Davis (Studio Canal) follows a week in the life of the titular folk singer (Oscar Isaac, The Two Faces of January) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Set against the backdrop of an unforgiving New York winter, the movie sees hapless Llewyn bounce between friends’ couches as he struggles to secure a foothold in the merciless music industry. With his debut album ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ floundering, the singer is forced to perform on novelty records cash-in-hand, as he embarks on an odyssey to audition for legendary music mogul Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham, Homeland), a man who can make or break his career.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a wry, amusing movie that finds the Coen Brothers indulging themselves to the hilt. As an evocation of a bygone era, the Coens latest period piece is excellent – doing for the 1960s New York folk scene what Barton Fink did for 1940s Hollywood. What it lacks compared to the earlier movie is a greater sense of narrative purpose, with the directorial duo preferring to stitch together a series of quirky vignettes rather than tell a broader tale.  Long-term collaborator John Goodman is in scene-stealing form as a junk-addled jazz fiend, but his character doesn’t spark the film to life in the same way he did in Barton Fink.

Indeed, the supporting cast grows more impressive with each passing scene (Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, Carey Mulligan), but does little to develop the plot. Oscar Isaac is tremendous in the lead role, but the sense of aimlessness and lack of a satisfactory ending will ultimately ensure that Inside Llewyn Davis won’t rank alongside Coen classics like Fargo, Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and the aforementioned Barton Fink. That said, the soundtrack, as overseen by long-term collaborator T-Bone Burnett, is just about worth the price of admission alone!

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In Wish You Were Here (Metrodome) married coupleDave (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom, Warrior) and Alice (Felicity Price, Home & Away) are about to become parents for the third time when they agree to join Alice’s younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr, Banshee) on an impromptu week-long trip to Cambodia. Their week of sun-soaked debauchery quickly turns sour, however, when brash Jeremy vanishes without a trace. After an official investigation fails to shed any light on the disappearance, Dave and Alice return home to their young family. Steph initially remains in Cambodia, desperate for answers, but her eventual return sees a series of dark secrets come tumbling out, threatening not just Dave and Alice’s domestic bliss – but Dave’s life itself.

Australian Edgerton – star of the upcoming Ridley Scott Moses epic Exodus: Gods and Kings – is a brooding, charismatic presence, and it is interesting to see him step back from his recent work in Hollywood to work on a modest homegrown movie such as this. Actor-turned-first-time director Kieran Darcy-Smith – he starred alongside Edgerton in Animal Kingdom – has helmed a memorable first feature, albeit one that sometimes suffers from pacing problems and a muddled sense of purpose. The psychological baggage affecting Dave is convincingly rendered, but the movie as a whole could do with a few more heavyweight scenes and a bit more Cambodian colour. Don’t let the jaunty title fool you – for the most part Wish You Were Here is gritty and absorbing with an impressively queasy pay-off.

 

Sex, Leins & Videotape #179. Tom Leins reviews Orange Is The New Black and Hinterland

Tom Leins reviews two fascinating new TV dramas in this week’s DVD round-up.

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Based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, Orange Is The New Black – Season One (Lionsgate)tells the story of what happens when engaged New Yorker Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling, The Lucky One) is arrested and sent to a federal penitentiary for the ten-year-old crime of transporting money for her drug-smuggler girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, That 70s Show). In prison the pair are unexpectedly reunited and forced to re-examine their relationship at close quarters, while playing an active role in the lives of their fellow inmates.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #177. Tom Leins reviews Homefront, Dom Hemingway and The Family

Vigilante justice in the deep South, a London safecracker comes home and mobster carnage in France – Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest DVDs.

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Following the death of his wife, former drug enforcement officer Phil Broker (Jason Statham, The Transporter) moves to a small town I Louisiana with his young daughter, hoping to give her a better life. So begins Homefront (Lionsgate), a typically violent slab of Statham mayhem.

After a schoolyard conflict involving his daughter spirals out of control, Broker finds himself on a collision course with local meth-kingpin Gator Bodine (James Franco, Spring Breakers), the uncle of the boy who his daughter got in a scuffle with.  What starts out as a tit-for-tat feud, soon takes on a sinister quality, and when Broker’s true identity is leaked to a notorious biker gang he once infiltrated, he is forced to wage a brutal one man war on the town’s criminal fraternity.

Adapted – by Sylvester Stallone no less – from the novel of the same name by Vietnam veteran Chuck Logan, Homefront is part of a series of Phil Broker books, and represents Statham’s latest attempt at kick-starting a new action franchise. After last year’s unwieldy but entertaining Parker, which saw Statham resurrect the iconic Richard Stark anti-hero of the same name, Homefront is a far less complicated affair, and its lone tough guy narrative could have been ripped straight out of an 80s Stallone movie.

The reliably off-kilter James Franco adds depth to the backwoods bad-guy role , but Statham is the star of the show, pummelling his way through a series of bozos, meth-chefs and bikers. It may lack sophistication – and indeed surprises – but Homefront is an enjoyably trashy B-movie thriller that Statham fans will lap up.

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Dom Hemingway (Lionsgate), played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes) is a larger-than-life safecracker, back on the London streets after a twelve-year stint in jail. Determined to reclaim what he is owed for keeping his mouth shut inside, Dom heads to the south of France with his flamboyant, long-suffering best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant, Withnail and I), only to clash with suave crime boss Mr Fontaine (Demian Bichir, A Better Life). Dom’s rampant ego and excessive boozing set in motion a deadly chain of events, and to compound his problems, upon his return to England he struggles to reconnect with his estranged grown-up daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones), and her family.

Before drifting into TV work, American writer-director Richard Shepard helmed offbeat Pierce Brosnan/Greg Kinnear drama The Matador back in 2005. The two movies have many parallels, but Dom Hemingway lacks the earlier movie’s subtlety, replacing it with a brash, shouty approach that is likely to prove off-putting to viewers of a sensitive disposition. Jude Law has a great time as Dom, even if the movie gives off a wearying try-hard vibe for long stretches. Comparisons to Sexy Beast have been drawn, but Dom Hemingway lacks the earlier movie’s sense of purpose, and is far too pleased with its own warped sense of humour to rank as a Brit-gangster classic. That said, with an appealingly brisk run-time and some enjoyably depraved dialogue, the film is not without its charms.

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In action-comedy The Family (Entertainment One) ex-mafia boss Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro, Goodfellas) is moved to rural France under the witness protection programme, after snitching on his old associates back in the United States. Given new identities as the ‘Blake’ family, Fred (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer, Married To The Mob) and their two children Belle (Dianna Agron, Glee) and Warren (John D’Leo) struggle to adapt to the French way of life, and it isn’t long before their old ways of dealing with trouble start to attract the attentions of some very violent men from their old neighbourhood.

With paper-thin characterisation, a weirdly lazy script and a shop-soiled pre-Sopranos vision of mob life, The Family is a clumsy, tiresome mess that strikes a series of hollow notes throughout. The gleeful sadism and tongue-in-cheek humour are odd bedfellows, with the movie seemingly desperate to earn its stripes as a ‘dark comedy’. Much has been made of Robert De Niro’s lazy trampling of his own legacy, but the real villain here is Luc Besson, who delivers one of the worst movies of his directorial career. De Niro puts in a passable performance, as does Michelle Pfeiffer, but they are given little of substance to work with. A typically hangdog Tommy Lee Jones sports a look of world-weary bemusement throughout. I imagine many viewers will share the sensation…

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #176. Tom Leins reviews Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Ender’s Game

Tom Leins judges the battle of the teen franchises in this week’s DVD round-up.

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At the outset of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone) is back home after winning the 74th annual Hunger Games. Alienated from fellow champion – and faux-love interest – Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge To Terabithia), jaded Katniss is struggling to come to terms with her situation, not to mention her feelings for close friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, Empire State). Complicating things further, manipulative President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now) forces the ex-winners to embark on a reluctant ‘Victor’s Tour’ of the other districts. With a very real sense of rebellion bubbling under the surface, President Snow seeks to eliminate the popular Katniss, and initiates a  ‘Quarter Quell’ for the 75th annual Hunger Games – forcing Katniss, Peeta and other previous victors back into the arena to fight for their lives once again.

The plot may be a subtly re-tooled re-tread of the first movie, but Catching Fire stands on its own two feet, and gently nudges the series further along its narrative curve. Jennifer Lawrence’s star power has brightened significantly in the two years or so since the first movie was released, and she now finds herself in the enviable position of straddling two worlds – the crowd-pleasing teen franchise wonderland of Hunger Games and the critically-adored David O. Russell-endorsed Hollywood elite. Rather than treat the Hunger Games series as a misguided teenage folly, she actually steps up her game and takes the sequel to the next level.

If the mysterious island location where Catching Fire unfolds recalls cult TV show Lost, the conflicted, ambiguous ending seems to aim for an Empire Strikes Back vibe, which is no bad thing. It may be an obvious ‘middle chapter’, but Catching Fire is tighter, darker and more satisfying than the original Hunger Games. Check your preconceptions at the door – Catching Fire is a solid action thriller that bodes well for the future of the series.

ENDER'S GAME

Set 50 years after a heroic commander sacrificed himself to kill off an alien species called the Formics, Ender’s Game (eOne) depicts a society in which gifted young children are trained to become future leaders from an early age. Precocious Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) is recruited to join the elite squad by veteran Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, Star Wars), and quickly dispatched to ‘Battle School’, where he easily distinguishes himself. Selected as the next great hope by Graff, Ender battles to win the respect of his peers and earn a promotion to Command School, where he will be trained by a legendary predecessor for the next inter-species conflict.

Prior to its theatrical release, Ender’s Game suffered one of the most damaging publicity blitzes in recent memory, when Orson Scott Card’s unpleasant views on homosexual marriage were dredged up and plastered all over the entertainment press. With studio executives hastily distancing themselves from his comments, the movie struggled to survive the furore, delivering underwhelming box office returns.

Taken on its own merits, Ender’s Game is an entertaining sci-fi thriller, with an appealingly murky moral standpoint. Asa Butterfield impresses as the single-minded Ender, and there is also a welcome bad guy role for the quirky Moises Arias, who previously struck comedy gold in The Kings of Summer. Hollywood legends Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley largely play second fiddle to the youngsters, although Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham character is a defiantly odd presence. Snappily directed by the erratic Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition), Ender’s Game ultimately bites off more than it can chew, struggling to make sense of its surplus of ideas. Further, the final coda – which paves the way for a sequel that will definitely no longer happen – only adds to the sense of awkwardness.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #175. Tom Leins reviews The Americans, We Are What We Are and For Those In Peril.

Retro espionage, unhealthy appetites and watery graves – Tom Leins reviews the week’s best DVDs.

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Set during the Cold War period, The Americans – The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox) is the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell, Dark Skies) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys, The Edge of Love), two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple, living in the suburbs of Washington, DC with their unsuspecting children.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #174. Tom Leins reviews Filth and This Ain’t California

Tom Leins reviews Filth and This Ain’t California in this week’s DVD round-up.

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Filth (Lionsgate) tells the story of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy, Welcome To The Punch), a corrupt, drug-addicted cop who finds himself in line for an unlikely promotion and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Tasked with solving a brutal murder, Bruce is more concerned with engineering the downfall of his similarly hapless colleagues, and avoiding the suspicions of his unwitting boss Chief Inspector Toal (John Sessions). As his drink and drug intake spirals out of control, Bruce finds himself plagued by hallucinatory, animal-themed visions, and begins to come unstuck in the demented web of deceit he has weaved.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #173. Tom Leins reviews In A World, Piercing Brightness and The Colony

Quirky comedy, art-house sci-fi and post-apocalyptic chills are on the agenda in this week’s DVD round-up.

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In A World… (Sony) tells the story of Carol Solomon (Lake Bell, Boston Legal), a struggling vocal coach who is forced to stand on her own two feet after getting kicked out by her father Sam Soto (Fred Melamed, A Serious Man), one of the movie voiceover scene’s leading lights. Unconvinced by his daughter’s potential as a Hollywood voiceover artist, Sam throws his weight behind arrogant protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino, Eastbound & Down), and nudges him towards the lucrative Amazon Games franchise. However, when Gustav fails to show up at a recording session – blaming laryngitis – Carol records a temporary voice track, and quickly finds herself snapped up by impressed executives for a string of jobs. Incensed at Carol’s behaviour, Sam throws his hat back into the ring, and they go head-to-head for the sought-after Amazon Games job.

Written and directed by Lake Bell herself, In A World… is a quirky, likeable comedy that shines a light on a profession rarely given screen-time in Hollywood. The fact that Fred Melamed is widely known for his voiceover work in the US adds authenticity to the proceedings, as do the many references to late voiceover kingpin Don La Fontaine, the man whose classic catchphrase the movie takes its title from. With sterling support from the likes of Nick Offerman (We’re The Millers), Demetri Martin (Taking Woodstock) and Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), In A World… is an enjoyably idiosyncratic little comedy that barely puts a foot wrong.

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Directed by acclaimed visual artist Shezad Dawood, Piercing Brightness (Soda) examines what happens when two aliens of Chinese appearance arrive in Preston, Lancashire. Their mission is ostensibly to re-establish contact with their compatriots, the ‘Glorious 100’ sent to earth millennia ago in human form to study and observe the development of another race. However, after making contact with one of the 100, now a Pakistani shopkeeper (Bhasker Patel) they discover that many of their kind have become ‘corrupted’ and forgotten their original purpose.

Spaced-out soundtrack by Japanese psych-rockers Acid Mothers Temple? Check. Screenplay by cult novelist Kirk Lake? Check. Director Shezad Dawood has assembled an outwardly impressive art-house confection, albeit one that delivers far less than the sum of its parts. Inspired by Lancashire having the highest rate of UFO sightings in the UK, Piercing Brightness is sporadically interesting, but rarely gripping. The art-house sci-fi movie is a tricky one to pull off, and unfortunately this underwhelming, badly undercooked two-year project feels like a video installation that has spiralled dangerously out of control.

COLONY

Set in 2045, The Colony (Entertainment One) depicts a world in which humans have built weather machines in an effort to control the devastating effects of global warming. However, after the machines unexpectedly break down the planet is plunged into another Ice Age and the lucky few that remain are forced to live in underground bunkers to escape the sub-zero conditions. Briggs (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix) and Mason (Bill Paxton, Big Love) are the leaders of one such bunker, Colony 7, and after receiving a distress signal from a neighbouring facility, Briggs leads a mission into the frozen wasteland – only to discover a savage threat unlike anything the survivors have ever encountered before…

Although the freezing conditions seem to give The Colony a fresh slant, initial appearances can be deceptive, and this Canadian-funded picture is nothing more than a wearyingly derivative riff on the well-worn post-apocalyptic survival movie template. Actors of the calibre of Fishburne and Paxton are given little of real substance to work with, and one of the few good points is the setting – actually an air force base in Ontario. The Colony isn’t a particularly bad movie, it just fails to bring anything new to the table, and the lazily sketched characters add little to the experience. All in all, a blandly forgettable genre re-tread.

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #172. Tom Leins reviews The Tunnel and Last Passenger

There is blood on the tracks in this week’s DVD round-up.

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At the outset of The Tunnel (Acorn Media) a prominent French politician is found dead in the bowels of the Channel Tunnel – at the midway point where England meets France – and mismatched detectives Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane, Game of Thrones) and Elise Wassermann (Clemence Poesy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) are called in to investigate the murder on behalf of their respective countries. The case quickly takes a disturbing turn, and it is apparent that the killer has an axe to grind with the governments of both countries. An increasingly elaborate series of killings force the French and British police into an uneasy partnership, but there is little indication of where he will strike next. Dubbed the ‘Truth Terrorist’ by sleazy tabloid hack Danny Hillier (Tom Bateman, Da Vinci’s Demons), the killer slowly unveils five so-called ‘truths’ about our morally bankrupt society, all the while concealing his true agenda.

Back in 2011 Danish/Swedish co-production The Bridge became the latest Scandinavian crime drama to win an audience in the UK, and its cryptic narrative and distinctly chilly mood proved to be a hit with viewers. A US/Mexican version – set between El Paso and Juarez – was hastily green-lit, while The Tunnel is an Anglo-French spin on the story. The argument against remaking foreign language hits for ‘lazy’ viewers is a strong one, but The Tunnel feels fresh rather than jaded, despite an over-reliance on the source material.

With strong performances from Dillane and Poesy in the lead roles – the former virtually unrecognisable from the dour role of Stannis Baratheon that he inhabits in Game of Thrones – The Tunnel stands on its own two feet and comes heavily recommended to anyone who missed out on the original. Rather than diluting The Bridge’s bleak vision, The Tunnel re-tools it for English and French sensibilities, and as a UK viewer, the dual-language culture-clash element feels far more satisfying than in the original. All in all, The Tunnel is a violent, uncompromising cop drama that tosses you a series of red herrings only to pull the rug out from under you time and time again.

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In Last Passenger (Kaleidoscope) dashing surgeon Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott, Mission: Impossible 2) catches the last train from London to Tunbridge Wells after a day out in the city with his young son. Lewis attempts to take his mind off his impending shift at work by striking up a flirtatious conversation with beautiful fellow traveller Sarah (Kara Tointon, Eastenders). However, the romantic mood is soured when the train races past his stop leaving Lewis and a handful of other passengers at the mercy of a psychotic hijacker with a death wish. As the unlikely group bicker over what to do next, Lewis finds himself thrust into the role of unwilling hero…

Frustrated that his Last Passenger script was languishing in development hell, director Omid Nooshin took matters into his own hands and cobbled together a rudimentary trailer for £500. This calling card caught the attention of leading man Scott – who said it reminded him of Hitchcock – and a number of high profile backers, such as Pathé, the British Film Institute (BFI) and Pinewood Studios. Disappointingly, the finished project is unable to justify the excitement surrounding its genesis, with the tense moments too sporadic to build up a true fear of dread. Flimsily sketched out characters and a stodgy, exposition-heavy script do little to further the film’s cause, and the best ‘character’ is arguably the creaky old train at the film’s core. Despite a few neat moments, for long spells Last Passenger felt as boring as my daily commute.