Jason Momoa has had one of the strangest career trajectories in Hollywood, notching up roles in the likes of Baywatch Hawaii (who knew?), Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones, before landing his biggest break yet by securing the role of Aquaman in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Based on a story by celebrated crime author Dennis Lehane, The Drop (20th Century Fox) takes place in the Brooklyn underworld where ‘money drops’ are used to funnel cash to local gangsters.
Sundance-approved comedy-drama The Skeleton Twins (Sony) examines the toxic relationship between estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids) and Milo (Bill Hader, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) who reunite after a decade.
After seeing his suicide attempt thwarted, Milo, a depressed, gay, would-be actor finds himself whisked away from Los Angeles to his small New York home town by sister Maggie. However, she has demons – not to mention suicidal thoughts – of her own, and the reunion doesn’t run smoothly. As the twins try to reconnect, they realise that the key to fixing their own lives lies in repairing their own strained relationship. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done, and old grievances soon rise to the surface.
Wiig and Hader enjoy a strong rapport, presumably honed during their years working alongside one another on Saturday Night Live, and their evident bond allows them to explore some pretty dark material. Both leads deliver powerful central performances, and despite their comedy backgrounds the pair display impressive dramatic chops. Indeed, perennial comedy sidekick Hader offers an incredibly raw, leftfield performance – one that is likely to make you see him in a new light. The Skeleton Twins is well-observed and highly accomplished – darkly enjoyable stuff.
Limp ensemble drama Third Person (Sony) weaves together the stories of three very different couples, in three different cities. The respective tales play out in Paris, where a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Liam Neeson), who recently left his wife (Kim Basinger), is having a tempestuous affair with an ambitious young journalist (Olivia Wilde); in Rome, where a shady American businessman (Adrien Brody) meets a mysterious woman with ties to people traffickers (Moran Atias); and in New York, where a lawyer (Maria Bello) is helping a young mother (Mila Kunis) in a custody battle with her famous ex-husband (James Franco).
Paul Haggis (Crash, In The Valley of Elah) used to be a filmmaker with a point to prove, but nowadays he comes across as an aimless bore. The Next Three Days was a sporadically entertaining but ultimately long-winded remake of a superior French film, and Third Person sees him scrape the barrel even harder with its meandering ensemble set-up. The cast is excellent – as good as you could wish to see in any movie – but they are largely wasted in dull, thankless roles. None of the three storylines have enough narrative clout to propel the film, and it quickly degenerates into self-indulgent stodginess. Underwhelming.
Assassin (Signature) stars Danny Dyer (Football Factory) as a sought-after killer-for-hire who breaks the rules of his profession when he falls for a beautiful young woman. But when his paymasters, the most notorious gangland brothers in London (Martin & Gary Kemp, The Krays) hire him to kill his girlfriend’s father, his world implodes and he opts to turn his back on his profession and wage war on his dangerous former acquaintances.
Danny Dyer’s crowd-pleasing EastEnders gig may have saved him from B-movie purgatory, but unfortunately Assassin sees him backslide into murky territory. Dyer has arguably delivered some of the best acting of his career in EastEnders recently, and it goes to show what a decent performer he is with a solid script (and indeed a coherent narrative) to work with. Assassin offers him neither, and fails to replicate the violent thrills of 2013’s vicious Vendetta. Dyer fans are likely to lap it up, but Assassin is cheap and cheerless.
Also out now:
In the nerve-jangling Hostages – The Complete Season One (Arrow Films) brilliant female surgeon Dr. Yael Danon (Ayelet Zurer, Angels & Demons), discovers her family have been kidnapped the night before she is due to perform surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister. The hostage-takers have one demand: “Kill the PM on the operating table or your loved ones die.” Forget the lacklustre US remake starring Toni Collette – the original is far superior. Riddled with moral ambiguities and narrative complexities, this is a cracking ten-part thriller.
The Imitation Game (StudioCanal) charts the life and times of Cambridge mathematics graduate Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock), who is recruited by the newly created British intelligence agency MI6 in 1939 to help crack Nazi codes, including the infamous Enigma. Cumberbatch excels as Turing, even if the film’s brush-it-under-the-carpet approach to his homosexuality starts to grate. The Imitation Game is watchable throughout, but ultimately too cynical and calculated to enjoy wholeheartedly. Pure Oscar-bait!
Warfare, dementia and martial arts – this week’s biggest DVDs reviewed.
Set in April 1945, during the final days of World War 2, Fury (Sony) follows Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt, World War Z), a Sherman tank commander who leads his veteran crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.
Six years after the death of her husband, downtrodden Amelia (Essie Davis, The Slap) is at the end of her tether. She struggles to discipline her maladjusted six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and his out-of-control behaviour sees him excluded from school.
Created by TV industry mainstay Michael Lannan, and inspired by his experiences as a gay man, new drama Looking (HBO Home Entertainment) offers an unflinching look at the complicated friendships and relationships of three men in modern-day San Francisco.
Post-apocalyptic carnage, indie melodrama and money-grabbing B-movie trash – the week’s DVDs go under the microscope.
Set ten years after a major economic collapse, The Rover (eOne) follows cold-blooded drifter Eric (Guy Pearce, Memento) as he traverses the scorched Australian Outback on a mission to track down the men who stole his car – the last thing that he had left in the world.
Tom Leins casts a critical eye over two big-name BBC dramas.
Hard-hitting BBC drama The Missing (Acorn Media) examines the toxic fallout that follows the disappearance of five-year-old Oliver Hughes, who vanishes on a family holiday in Spain. The show takes us inside the mind of Oliver’s tortured, booze-fuelled father Tony (James Nesbitt, Cold Feet, Murphy’s Law), who remains committed to finding his son long after his marriage to wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) has imploded under the pressure.
Three years after achieving a huge hit with the first Inbetweeners movie, the cast are back with another ‘Brits Abroad’ money-spinner.
The Inbetweeners 2 (Channel 4 DVD) picks up with geeky Will (Simon Bird) struggling to make friends at university, while self-absorbed Simon (Joe Thomas) is trapped in a loveless relationship with his new girlfriend Lucy. When Simon and dim-witted Neil (Blake Harrison) visit Will for a humiliatingly uneventful weekend, the hapless trio make the decision to travel to Australia to meet up with vulgar likely lad Jay (James Buckley), who is supposedly having the time of his life, working as a DJ in Sydney. Inevitably, Jay’s tall tales have little connection to reality and the posse’s feeling of mutual disillusionment spurs them on to explore Australia and rub shoulders with the hordes of hardened backpackers.
Intrigue in Seattle, murder Down Under and a backwards-looking family movie – this week’s best DVDs reviewed.
Based on the Danish crime drama of the same name (well, Forbrydelsen, technically), the US remake of The Killing first hit our screens in 2011, but enjoyed mixed fortunes, getting cancelled not once, but twice – only to be bailed out by Netflix on both occasions. With a fourth and final series now poised to air on the online streaming service, The Killing – The Complete First, Second and Third Seasons (MediumRare) is available to buy, with seasons two and three available on DVD for the first time.
Nick Cave, Jim Jarmusch and, erm, Elijah Wood – October’s oddest DVDs reviewed.
Hannibal Lecter, Postman Pat and Nicolas Cage go head-to-head in this week’s DVD round-up.
At the outset of Hannibal – The Complete Season Two (StudioCanal) criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, accused of a series of crimes committed by cannibalistic culinarian Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Now that Will sees Hannibal for what he truly is, he faces a fight to prove his own sanity and convince his former colleagues that he is innocent of murder. Meanwhile, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the head of Behavioural Sciences at the FBI, is dealing with his own conflicted feelings about Will – a man he pressurised into assisting with his earlier investigations, despite Will’s obviously damaged psyche. Looking for answers, Jack turns to a man he has come to trust: Hannibal Lecter.
Hard-hitting cops, slippery con-men and dystopian danger-junkies – this week’s top DVDs reviewed.
In Sabotage (Lionsgate) a close-knit group of DEA agents, led by John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commando), raids a drug cartel safe house, with a view to taking a share of the spoils for themselves. They stash the loot, but before they can retrieve it, the money – $10 million in cash – disappears, and the task force fall under suspicion regardless. After a lengthy suspension, the jaded team are allowed back into active service, but the reunion is short-lived, and they find themselves getting picked off, one-by-one, with the cartel the likely culprits. With the body-count rising, a reluctant Breacher is forced to team up with no-nonsense cop Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams, The Ghost) to try and put a stop to the killings.
A second helping of Indonesian carnage dominates this week’s DVD round-up.
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.
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.
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…
Gritty prison drama Starred Up batters the other DVD releases into submission in this week’s DVD round-up.
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.
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.
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.
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.