Inspired by the 2008 memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee, a former DIY columnist for the Guardian, We Bought A Zoo tells the story of a family who, reeling from the death of their mother, spend their life savings on a dilapidated, financially-stricken zoo – complete with 200 exotic animals – and work towards preparing it for its grand re-opening.
Co-written by James Ellroy, the self-styled ‘demon dog of American crime fiction’, Rampart (StudioCanal) follows a typically damaged Ellroy protagonist in the form of Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers) a boozy, racist cop with a pronounced violent streak.
Carancho (Axiom Films) is the latest movie from Argentinian director Pablo Trapero, whose previous credits include the excellent prison drama Lion’s Den.
Since surging to prominence with his riveting turn as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2007) German/Irish actor Michael Fassbender has been on an incredible hot streak, with movies as diverse as Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds and X-Men: First Class raising his profile yet further.
Shame (Momentum) sees Fassbender team up with Turner Prize-winner-turned-director McQueen once more, for an all-new study of a man in crisis. Brandon (Fassbender) is a handsome 30-something living in New York and balancing a demanding job with an active social life and an all-consuming sex-addiction.
When his wayward sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan, Drive) turns up at his apartment unannounced, Brandon’s painstakingly balanced lifestyle quickly collapses in on itself, plunging him into an existential crisis. Wracked with self-doubt and plagued with commitment issues, Brandon’s sex addiction spirals even further out of control and he starts to trawl the rougher end of town for gratification, with a nihilistic disregard for his own safety.
Fuelled by a characteristically compelling performance from the unstoppable Fassbender, Shame is a corrosive drama that makes no bones about its frequently gratuitous content. With a similarly intense supporting performance from Carey Mulligan, whose star is also in the ascendancy, Shame sets out its stall as an emotionally-devastating piece of work, and McQueen hits the target throughout. The fearless Fassbender elevates potentially tawdry material into a different realm altogether, with Brandon’s libidinous conquests rendered defiantly unsexy throughout. Graphic, intense and undeniably strange, Shame is another impressive notch for Fassbender’s Hollywood bedpost.
Originally known by the anatomically correct, if slightly off-putting, name ‘Womb’ Clone (Arrow Films) is the latest movie from up-and-coming Hungarian writer/director Benedek Fliegauf.
Set in an alternative future where human cloning is possible and widely used, ‘copies’ are viewed by society as second-class citizens, and although identical in every way, are ostracised by the ‘originals’ in society. After more than a decade in Tokyo, Rebecca (Eva Green, Casino Royale) returns to the village where she grew up to reconnect with her childhood best friend Tommy (Matt Smith, Doctor Who, in his feature film debut). The mutual attraction is still evident, but a tragic accident cuts short their budding romance, prompting Rebecca to conceive and give birth to Tommy’s genetic copy, setting in motion an increasingly disturbing chain of events.
French-born Eva Green has started to carve an unexpected niche for herself with quirky sci-fi-infused material, and recently earned plaudits for the apocalyptic romance Perfect Sense. Clone explores similar territory, albeit far less successfully, with the painfully slow pace and fitful dialogue doing the film few favours. Further, Rebecca’s bizarre motivations are never satisfactorily explained, rendering the trudge towards the inevitably queasy finale more than a little questionable. While Clone succeeds as an extended mood-piece, its uncomfortable narrative leaves a lot to be desired. I can only hope that the film received a better reception in Fliegauf’s native Hungary…
Improbably produced by Nina Wadia, who is probably best known for starring as Zainab Masood in Eastenders, gangland drama Four (High Fliers) tells the story of four very different individuals whose lives viciously collide on a bleak evening in a derelict warehouse.
An off-duty cop (played by Sean Pertwee, Dog Soldiers) has been hired by a shifty businessman (Craig Conway, Doomsday) to track down and kidnap the man having an affair with his wife, and bring him to the secluded location so vengeance can be enacted. However, when the young man (Martin Compston, The Disappearance of Alice Creed) is presented to him, the cuckolded husband struggles to work up the nerve to punish him, leaving the increasingly animated cop to demonstrate how he would behave in the same situation. The businessman’s resolve is tested even further when the cop reveals that he has a surprise up his sleeve – the wife (Kierston Wareing, Fish Tank) – who has also been kidnapped and brought to the warehouse. Suffice to say, nothing is quite what it seems, and things quickly take a turn for the worse…
Any dialogue-heavy crime drama set entirely in a warehouse is likely to court comparisons with Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and Four goes one step further when Pertwee’s character actually namechecks the 1992 thriller and threatens to re-enact an iconic scene, albeit with tongue firmly in-cheek. Although Pertwee has found a quirky niche through his work with Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday) his performance here lapses into cartoonish self-parody, and can’t disguise the badly underwritten dialogue. On the bright side, the highly watchable Kierston Wareing manages not to blot her copybook, and delivers a memorably foul-mouthed performance as the vivacious adulteress with her own agenda.
Although Four has a neat twist in the tail, it doesn’t make up for the sluggish narrative and unexpectedly weak dialogue. Sadly, despite an appealing cast and a grisly denouement, Four is a distinctly underwhelming proposition.
Created and co-written by French cop-turned-filmmaker Olivier Marchal, whose previous credits include 36 Quai Des Orfevres (2004)and MR73 (2008), Braquo – The Complete Series One (Arrow Films) is a visceral cop-show about a squad of elite cops with a reputation for operating outside of the law.
However, following the suicide of their disgraced colleague Max Rossi (Olivier Rabourdin), who topped himself after his investigation into his jaw-dropping mistreatment of a criminal in a holding cell, four cops, Eddie Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade), Walter Morlighem (Joseph Malerba), Theo Wachevski (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and Roxane Delgado (Karole Rocher), embark on an increasingly violent mission to clear his name.
Their decision sees them go toe-to-toe with the very Internal Affairs agents who had been probing Max’s actions, and if they make one false move they could end up in prison alongside the very scumbags that they are used to busting.
The heavily recommended MR73 was described on these pages as ‘bleak, gritty and disturbing’, and Braquo (slang for ‘heist’) is effectively a variation on a theme for Marchal, with the acclaimed filmmaker broadening his storytelling scope to encompass eight episodes (with a second series currently airing on FX). Although comparisons have been made between Braquo and fellow Euro-crime imports The Killing and Wallander, the TV series that it most resembles is hit US cop drama The Shield, which notched up seven brutal series detailing the exploits of Vic Mackey’s LA-based Strike Team.
Grim and sordid throughout, Braquo pulls no punches in its walk on the wild side of French criminality, and cranks up the unease as the protagonists’ personal and professional lives start to unravel. All in all, a disturbingly intense French cop-show that is well worthy of rubbing shoulders with its fellow small-screen imports. Riveting and visceral.
Created by Liverpool-born screenwriter Jimmy McGovern – as the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed cop-show-with-a-twist Cracker – The Lakes – Complete Series 1 & 2 (Second sight) earned rave reviews when it first aired in 1997, giving well-known TV star John Simm (State of Play, Life on Mars) his breakthrough role in the process.
The series follows twenty-something Danny Kavanagh (Simm), who is desperate to escape from an unfulfilling lifestyle characterised by compulsive gambling and petty theft in his native Liverpool. On a whim he heads north to the Lake District, hoping to unleash his poetic impulses, only to quickly fall into a rut typified by heavy drinking, petty criminality and casual drug use. After getting a local girl pregnant, Danny quickly establishes himself as a familiar face within the community, but being part of the fabric of village life brings with it just as much temptation as the big city.
Before long, Danny is distracted by promiscuous rich girl Lucy Archer (Kaye Wragg, No Angels, The Bill), and the pair’s destructive flirtation leads to Danny becoming embroiled in a tragic event involving a trio of local schoolgirls…
Although the first series of The Lakes earned widespread critical plaudits for its grittily realistic portrayal of a young man torn between a desire to better himself and a compulsion to indulge his more nihilistic leanings, the drama feels unfortunately dated, paling in comparison to similar material that has followed in its wake.
In contrast, the longer second series – which alienated late-90s viewers with its abrupt shift in tone – actually holds up far better, and makes for more compelling viewing. Rather than focusing on the tormented Danny’s inner turmoil, the second series instead explores the murky private lives of the rest of the village’s residents, pushing the show’s hitherto well-concealed dark humour to the fore. With adultery, rape and murder all on the agenda, outsider Danny effectively acts as the village’s conscience, and his intimate knowledge of local events puts him squarely at odds with his reluctant in-laws – who are harbouring dark secrets of their own…
With McGovern sharing writing responsibilities in series two with a number of other screenwriters, the tone often becomes muddled, but the narrative remains compelling throughout. Although it occasionally resembles a Happy Shopper version of Twin Peaks, The Lakes still makes for memorable viewing, even if its transgressive impulses have been dulled slightly with age. Fuelled by an appealing of-its-time Britpop-heavy soundtrack, and boosted by a typically charismatic lead performance from Simm, The Lakes is a good show, just not the great show that newcomers may be anticipating.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Anchor Bay) charts the eventful career of prolific B-movie director Roger Corman, a man who has spent almost 60 years on the fringes of Hollywood, without ever truly infiltrating the mainstream.
Inspired by a true story 50/50 (Lionsgate) focuses on Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin, Brick), a 27-year-old journalist who discovers that he has a rare form of cancer and must undergo chemotherapy. Concerned to read online that his chances of survival are rated at 50/50, Adam is forced to take stock of his life and prepare for the worst.
Anyone who was fortunate enough to have caught the enjoyably surreal Elijah Wood sitcom Wilfred hidden away on BBC3 last year may be surprised to learn that its source material actually dates back to a darkly unassuming Australian TV show from 2007.
French action/adventure yarn Special Forces (StudioCanal) tells the story of war correspondent Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, Unknown), who is taken hostage by Taliban warlord Ahmed Zaef (Raz Degan, Alexander) and threatened with execution.
Selected for the main competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Sleeping Beauty (Revolver) is the debut feature from Australian novelist-turned-director Julia Leigh, whose books include The Hunter and Disquiet.
Lucy (Emily Browning, Baby Doll in Zack Snyder’s critically-panned Suckerpunch) is a university student who is forced to hold down a number of odd jobs in order to keep her head above water – including one as a laboratory test-subject. An evening’s work waitressing for a group of elderly men (while dressed in revealing lingerie) leads to an unlikely source of income for the disarmingly reckless Lucy, and she quickly finds herself propositioned for a different job by icy madam Clara (Rachael Blake, Suburban Shootout ). Without hesitating, Lucy agrees to drink Clara’s drugged tea and fall asleep in the mansion, unaware that during the comatose nights that follow a series of elderly men will line up to fulfil their own warped erotic fantasies alongside her prone body. However, as the job continues, Lucy develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep, and takes steps to uncover the twisted truth.
The in-demand Emily Browning – she turned down the opportunity to audition for the lead role in Twilight – delivers an astonishingly brave performance as Lucy, despite admitting that the screenplay made her ‘uncomfortable’. It is a sensation that viewers are likely to share, as Leigh’s bizarre debut film unveils a series of queasy set-pieces that position the film in a provocative, narcoleptic hinterland rarely visited by mainstream cinema. With its hazy narrative and uncompromising subject matter, Sleeping Beauty is destined to polarise audiences, but Julia Leigh has delivered a memorably strange calling card. Pretentious interludes aside, Sleeping Beauty is an adeptly-made, deliberately oblique curio.
After risking both his physical and psychological health in 2003 with the audacious Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock turns his attentions towards product placement in Hollywood in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Universal). Intriguingly, this DVD – the end product effectively – has been entirely financed through product placement from various brands, all of which are heavily promoted throughout the film. (To give you an example, its full title is ‘POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ on account of the pomegranate beverage company that paid for top billing!) Product placement is now a multi-billion dollar industry-within-an-industry, and the subject matter is arguably an apt target for a humourist as mischievous as Spurlock.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a neat concept, well-executed by the likeable Spurlock, but it lacks the sickly power of Supersize Me, and ultimately sounds more appealing in theory than it is in practice. Despite informative ‘talking head’ contributions from the likes of Ralph Nader and Donald Trump, Noam Chomsky and Quentin Tarantino, the bulk of the movie is taken up by Spurlock parading his slightly-smug concept before potential investors – a self-indulgent gimmick that only gets the movie so far.
It may have been less detrimental to his health, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is also a less rewarding venture. To be fair, it’s a good documentary, just not the ‘great’ one it could have been. All in all, appealing but ultimately unsatisfying – just like a Big Mac ironically…
Welcome to the Rileys (High Fliers) tells the story of Doug (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo, Frozen River), a couple who have found their lives derailed after the death of their daughter eight years ago. Borderline agoraphobic, Lois refuses to leave the house and glum Doug has been cheating on her for several years with the sympathetic waitress at his local all-night diner. While attending a business convention in New Orleans, Doug unwittingly stumbles across Mallory (Kristen Stewart, Twilight), a teenage stripper struggling to get through life after running away from her home in Florida. Strangely, the chance encounter provokes Doug’s long-buried paternal instincts, and he tries to help the nihilistic Mallory to build a good life for herself, while harbouring a vague hope of rekindling his damaged marriage with the fragile Lois.
Directed by Jake Scott (son of Ridley, nephew of Tony), Welcome to the Rileys is a self-consciously ‘poignant’ story that lacks the bite to make a real impact. Despite a background as an acclaimed music video director – he has two videos in MTV’s 100 best videos of all time – Welcome to the Rileys is a strangely un-flashy affair, that prizes grit over glitz. Gandolfini is so ingrained in the viewing public’s consciousness as Tony Soprano, that the clunky role of Doug badly underwhelms, and the whole movie feels like a sub-plot that The Sopranos rejected for being too boring. Meanwhile, Leo is largely sidelined as the unconventional relationship between Doug and Mallory takes centre-stage.
In fact, Kristen Stewart is the only participant who really emerges with her reputation boosted, and interesting (at least on paper) curveball roles like this should help to put a bit of daylight between her and the increasingly dreary Twilight Saga. Despite its impressive credentials, Welcome to the Rileys feels like less than the sum of its parts and ends up resembling a TV movie with degenerate undertones.
Warrior (Lionsgate) stars Tom Hardy (Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises) as Tommy Riordan, a tormented ex-marine – haunted by a mysterious incident in his past – who enlists his estranged alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte, 48 Hours) to train him to enter ‘SPARTA’, an unprecedented ‘winner takes all’ Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament in Atlantic City.
Elsewhere, Tommy’s long-lost brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom),i s struggling to make ends meet, and looks set to default on his mortgage payments unless he can raise enough cash to keep the bank off his back. With his salary as a teacher proving insufficient, ex-fighter Brendan plots a course through the city’s lucrative bareknuckle fight scene. Inevitably, the two men – who haven’t laid eyes on one another since their teenage years – find their very different motivations propelling them towards a head-on collision at SPARTA, where they will be forced to confront the issues that drove a wedge between them in the first place.
While no one is likely to accuse Warrior of rewriting the fight-movie rule-book, director Gavin O’Connor has delivered a powerful, evocative drama that drags the genre into the modern-era. Despite the ever-increasing popularity of the multi-million dollar UFC franchise, Mixed Martial Arts movies have struggled to gain a foothold in Hollywood to date, veering between scrappy, low-budget vehicles for ex-UFC stars and – at the other end of the scale – David Mamet’s obtuse anti-thriller Redbelt. Suffice to say, Warrior comprehensively out-muscles the competition, and feels more akin to a modern spin on the Rocky saga – with an added dose of family tension that makes the hot-headed family dynamic in David O Russell’s The Fighter seem positively cordial. A bone-shattering, brutally efficient fight movie master-class.
Loosely based on a real-life incident, in which Laura Zuniga, 2008’s Miss Sinaloa, was arrested alongside a number of suspected gang members in a truck filled with weapons outside Guadalajara, Mexico, Miss Bala (Metrodome) is a gritty Mexican drama that tells the story of Laura (Stephanie Sigman), a young woman whose dreams of becoming a beauty queen see her plunged headfirst into a bloody Mexican drug war. Caught up in a police raid at a sleazy disco, Laura is whisked away by a posse of corrupt cops, and forced to do their bidding. With no one to turn to, Laura ricochets between disturbing set-pieces, getting deeper and deeper all the time.
Written and directed by Gerardo Naranjo, who previously earned plaudits for his debut movie Voy A Explodar (I’m Gonna Explode), the film was selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, although it did not make the final shortlist. While the concept of movie about a catwalk queen who becomes immersed in a bullet-strewn turf war sounds exploitative, to Naranjo’s credit Miss Bala is a thoughtful, engrossing piece of work that reaffirms the Mexican director’s credentials, and steers clear of the cartoonish approach favoured by reigning ‘Mexploitation’ king Robert Rodriguez. Grim, but gripping.
Co-written by Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (StudioCanal) is a remake of the cult 1973 made-for-television horror film of the same name. Directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey, who impressed del Toro with his 2007 short-film Latchkey’s Lament, the movie follows young Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison, Brothers) who arrives in Rhode Island to stay with her estranged father Alex (Guy Pearce, Memento) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes, Dawson’s Creek) at the sinister Victorian mansion that they are in the process of restoring. Unable to adjust to her new surroundings, Sally finds comfort in her solitary explorations of the spooky property, and discovers a hidden basement, undisturbed since the mysterious century-old disappearance of the mansion’s builder, famed illustrator Emerson Blackwood…
After a teeth-shatteringly nasty opening scene, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark quickly slips into an unambitious mainstream-horror rut, providing a few frights, but very little in the way of genuine surprises. Forget the behind-the-scenes involvement of Guillermo del Toro, for large spells Nixey’s movie is hokier than a bad Stephen King adaptation. Young Bailee Madison delivers a sterling performance as the precocious, heavily medicated Sally, but the usually-reliable Guy Pearce is saddled with a thankless one-note role as her distracted father, and TV mainstay Alan Dale (Lost, 24) is sidelined in a peripheral supporting role. Don’t be distracted by del Toro’s headline presence – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is nothing more than a lukewarm, lowest-common-denominator re-tread of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Adapted from the autobiography of notorious gangland boss Hiroito Joanides de Moroaes, Boca (Universal) recounts the tumultuous life story of one of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals. At the age of 21 Hiroito was accused of the brutal killing of his father – who was razor-ripped 40 times in a murderous frenzy – but the police never got the charges to stick. After shrugging off the attentions of the cops Hiroito promptly bought two guns and moved to Boca do Lixo – a seedy downtown Sao Paulo neighbourhood known for its nightclubs, whorehouses, strip joints and drug dealers – and forged a reputation as one of the area’s most profitable pimps and pushers.
Perfect Sense (Arrow Films) is the latest offering from offbeat Brit director David Mackenzie (Young Adam; Hallam Foe), and marks a welcome return to his familiar Scottish stomping ground, after a brief sojourn to Hollywood for 2009’s glossy Ashton Kutcher/Anne Heche vehicle Spread.
Based on a script by award-winning Danish writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, Perfect Sense is a set in a not-too-distant-future where the world is being ravaged by a mysterious new virus, which is slowly stripping people of their senses, starting with the sense of smell. With society spiralling into disarray, the film focuses on Glasgow chef Michael (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting) and Susan (Eva Green, Casino Royale, The Dreamers), an epidemiologist who is conducting research into the outbreak. Following a chance encounter, Michael and Susan embark on an increasingly volatile affair that sees them share unforeseen moments of pure pleasure as the world around them crumbles into chaos. But with their senses failing them, how long can this emotional connection continue?
Full of striking, emotive scenes, Perfect Sense is an unashamedly cerebral drama that definitely ranks as one of McGregor’s most interesting films in years. Despite a clumsy moment introducing the two disparate protagonists, Mackenzie’s film rarely puts a foot wrong, and the use of stitched-together external footage offers a neat counterpoint to the intense central relationship. What’s more, the film is at its best when it is at its weirdest – such as the scene when the two lovers start snacking on soap in the bathtub in an effort to reignite their taste-buds! While it will be too art-house for some viewer’s tastes, to me this apocalyptic romance is the always-interesting Mackenzie’s best film yet. A compelling, thought-provoking drama.
Another man with a well-documented romantic streak is Woody Allen – if romance includes marrying your own step-children, that is. After the potentially career-ending ineptitude of 2007’s cockney caper Cassandra’s Dream, 2008’s enjoyable Vicky Cristina Barcelona heralded something of a return to form. The latest instalment in Allen’s latter-day cinematic tour of Europe is Midnight in Paris (Warner Home Video), a time-traveling romantic comedy that plays out like a ‘thinking man’s Goodnight Sweetheart’. Although Woody Allen has never gone on record stating a penchant for dubious ‘90s Nicholas Lyndhurst comedies, Midnight in Paris bears a disturbing resemblance to the lamentable Blitz-themed BBC sitcom, with a number of the 1920s leading literary lights taking centre stage in the elderly director’s era-straddling flick.
Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, Wedding Crashers, Red Eye) are in Paris on vacation with her ultra-conservative parents. Despite his success in the movie industry, Gil yearns to be taken seriously as a novelist, and hopes that his time in France will set his creative juices flowing. However, while Gil hopes to persuade Inez to move to Paris after their marriage, she struggles to see the city’s age-old romantic charms, and is keen to get back to Malibu. Out for a drunken midnight stroll, Gil finds himself invited on a night out with a crowd of enthusiastic partygoers in full 1920s dress. To his surprise, Gil finds himself in the company of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, and realises that he has been transported back in time – to his favourite era. Understandably, rubbing shoulders with his literary idols on a nightly basis has a profound effect on Gil – but will it drive an irreparable wedge between him and the shallow Inez?
Despite a dangerously cheesy premise, Midnight in Paris boasts some quirkily appealing touches and a number of great one-liners. Although Owen Wilson delivers a winning central performance – and deserves kudos as an atypical Allen choice of leading man – the film gets progressively worse as it unfolds, and ends up too whimsical and self-indulgent for its own good. A frothy, uneven concoction.
Directed by feature film debutant Glenn Ciano, Inkubus (Trinity X) tells the grisly story of a malevolent figure (played by horror veteran Robert Englund of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) who walks into a soon-to-be-demolished police station with the head of his latest victim, and proceeds to unleash a bag of ghastly tricks on the handful of unfortunate cops still loitering in the building. However, despite his actions, the man – cryptically known as ‘Inkubus’ – has something special in mind – he wants to destroy Detective Gil Diamonte (William Forsythe, The Devil’s Rejects) – the retired officer who came closest to capturing him 13 years ago.
Shot in just 15 days, on an apparently modest budget, Inkubus is a sporadically intriguing slice of straight-to-DVD horror that crams plenty of ideas into its brisk 77-minute run-time. With a murderous legacy dating back to the middle-ages, the maniacal Inkubus is a character designed to strike a chord with horror fans, and the claustrophobic setting allows for some appropriately gruesome set-pieces. Director Ciano has reportedly described Inkubus as a “nuts and guts” throwback to nasty ‘80s horror, and the well-judged involvement of genre veterans Englund and Forsythe is certain to guarantee a level of curiosity in the picture. That said, the film is badly hamstrung by its low budget and scattershot narrative, and will struggle to appeal to viewers outside of its core audience. For genre purists only.
The enduring success of the Twilight Saga is sure to open the doors of opportunity for everyone involved in it – not least the previously unknown Taylor Lautner (who plays hunky werewolf Jacob Black). Abduction (Lionsgate) sees Lautner draw first blood as a muscle-bound teenager tormented by inexplicable flashbacks to a vivid past that defies logic. Despite a happy home life with parents Kevin (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter) and Mara (Maria Bello, A History of Violence), Nathan Harper (Lautner) needs weekly consultations with psychiatrist Geri Bennett (Sigourney Weaver) to help with his confused emotions. When researching a school project with girl-next-door Karen (Lily Collins, star of the upcoming Mirror, Mirror), Nathan stumbles across a website that identifies how missing children would look years later, and starts to question every aspect of his existence. Inevitably, his questions set in motion a violent chain of events involving corrupt CIA operatives and Serbian terrorists.
After a slick, purposeful opening half-hour, Abduction (which is improbably directed by Boyz n the Hood’s John Singleton) degenerates into a dim-witted chase caper that seems desperate to evoke the thrills and spills of the Bourne trilogy, only to fail dismally. Although he lacks any real dramatic depth, trained martial artist Lautner is undeniably convincing in the action scenes, and although his post-Twilight fanbase are unlikely to be too fussy when it comes to narrative coherence, Abduction is a pretty bog-standard product. With a misleadingly vague title and a surplus supply of childishly bad dialogue, Abduction is a weirdly unsatisfying movie throughout. What’s more, the impressive cast list – which includes Weaver, Bello and Isaacs, alongside the likes of Alfred Molina and Michael Nyqvist – is seriously mystifying, especially given the seriously weak script. All in all: a breezy, shallow slice of paranoia-lite.
“What do you do?”
Junkhearts (Soda Pictures) tells the story of Frank (Eddie Marsan, Happy Go Lucky) a traumatised, middle-aged ex-soldier who tranquilises himself with scotch each day to stave off terrifying flashbacks from his tour of duty in Northern Ireland.
Spanish director Daniel Monzon failed to make much of an impact with his previous movie – quirky straight-to-DVD thriller The Kovak Box – but his latest movie Cell 211 (StudioCanal) sees him return to Spanish language material, with incendiary results.
BAFTA-winning comedy/drama Misfits – which tells the story of a group of young offenders who obtain super-powers after a freak electrical storm – has earned a cult audience since debuting in 2009, going on to rack up three enjoyable series – with a fourth commissioned for 2012.
However, prior to the filming of Misfits – Series 3 (4DVD), leading light Robert Sheehan (who played Irish Misfit Nathan) quit the show to try his luck in Hollywood (after appearing alongside Nicolas Cage in the dubious swords ‘n’ sorcery romp that was Season of the Witch), leaving creator Howard Overman with a huge hole to fill. Alongside resident delinquents Simon (Iwan Rheon), Kelly (Lauren Socha), Alisha (Antonia Thomas) and Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Overman has drafted in Rudy (Joe Gilgun, Woody from This Is England), an appropriately foul-mouthed replacement for lovable rogue Nathan. As the new guy at the ill-fated Community Centre, Rudy is the recipient of the lion’s share of the funniest lines, and proves a good choice to fill Sheehan’s shoes.
The central premise for this third outing involves the gang getting to grips with their new super-powers – they all participated in a trade-off with drug-pusher-turned-super-power-dealer Seth at the tail-end of the previous series – leading to some unwieldy scenes in the early stages. After the dust settles, Kelly has a genius-level knowledge of mechanical systems (AKA rocket science), Curtis has the power to swap gender, Alisha has the power to see through other people’s eyes and visualise what they see and Simon gains the power of precognition. Meanwhile, new kid on the block Rudy can split into two, with each half of his personality displaying polarised behavioural traits. Equipped with their new powers the posse are forced to confront an increasingly unlikely array of enemies, including reanimated zombies and even Nazis; the latter in a warped alternative universe where Hitler took over Britain.
While neither the second or third series has quite managed to match up to the sublime first series of Misfits, the quality control is still pretty high, with Rudy injecting a breath of fresh air into the proceedings. However, in light of two more integral characters abandoning ship to work on other projects after Series 3, precisely how Series 4 will play out is anyone’s guess. For now, Misfits remains one of the most interesting homegrown dramas on TV, and anyone who has yet to sample its quirky ‘X-men-with-ASBOs’ narrative should make a bee-line for the box set.
Critically acclaimed Danish cop show The Killing II (Arrow Films) received a rapturous reception when it first aired on BBC Four, going on to scoop the BAFTA for best international series ahead of the illustrious likes of Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.
Hot on its heels the BBC aired series two this winter, and the box set is now available on DVD. The second outing, which picks up two years after the events depicted in series one, finds lead character Sarah Lund stripped of her detective role following disciplinary action, and demoted to an undemanding position as a passport control official on Falster Island. However, following a grisly murder – in which a woman is stabbed 21 times, reputedly as retribution for Muslims killed by Danish troops in Afghanistan – Lund’s former boss Lennart Brix lures her back into the fold in an advisory capacity. However, the increasingly labyrinthine case swallows Lund whole, and the dogged ex-cop finds herself sucked into a twisted case with its roots deeply embedded in Islamic terrorism.
At just 10 episodes long, The Killing II is just half the length of its predecessor, but despite the reduced run-time, the show’s commitment to narrative depth remains intact, with the new plot taking in ever-shifting Danish politics and traumatised soldiers, and leading Lund well out of her comfort zone and into unchartered territory. While the show may prove to be too strange for viewers fed on pulse-pounding thrillers, The Killing has arguably revitalised the police procedural with its engrossing episode-per-day approach. The recent US remake – set in rain-drenched Seattle – proved that the show’s numerous high points were all too easily lost in translation, and this new story strand sees creator Soren Sveistrup flex his storytelling muscles once more.
In The Killing II Sarah Lund’s trademark woolly jumper may have changed, but the show’s uncompromising colloquialisms remain firmly in place, and the show is still one of TV’s most refreshing imports. Intriguing stuff.
After wowing fans and critics alike with his quirky documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Seth Gordon took a wrong-turn with his lightweight feature debut Four Christmases. The darkly comic Horrible Bosses (Warner Home Video) – the script for which languished in pre-production hell for around six years – marks Gordon’s welcome return to more offbeat material.
Witnessed through the inquisitive eyes of Pietari, a young Finnish boy with an over-active imagination, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Icon) explores a sinister side of Santa Claus that is rarely glimpsed in popular culture.
Widely heralded as one of Francis Ford Coppola’s finest films, The Conversation – Special Edition (Studio Canal) is now back in print, with an expansive array of extras to boot.
Based on a real events, Larysa Kondracki’s directorial debut The Whistleblower tells the eye-opening true story of small-town Nebraska cop Kathryn Bolkovac (Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener) who accepts a well-paying UN peacekeeping in Bosnia in an effort to get her life back on track, and earn enough money to pay off her debts and regain custody of her daughter.
Earlier this year, Spartacus: Blood & Sand was described here as “an eye-popping mash-up of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Zack Snyder’s 300 – with added soft-focus sex scenes to break up the relentless violence”. After the tragic illness and subsequent death of leading man Andy Whitfield, the producers headed back to the drawing board for a similarly intense prequel, entitled Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (Anchor Bay).
Prolific Irish crime writer Ken Bruen has developed a reputation as a cult figure among noir fans with a pulpy, self-referential array of thrillers. After last year’s poorly-received London Boulevard adaptation, Blitz (Lionsgate) marks the second time that his work has made it onto the big-screen in as many years.
Although Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro’s cinematic output has slowed down dramatically in recent years – he hasn’t actually directed a movie since 2008’s Hellboy 2 – he remains busy behind the scenes, racking up a series of production credits, the latest of which is for Spanish chiller Julia’s Eyes (Optimum).
Recent years have seen divisive Danish director Lars Von Trier gouge into a new vein of controversy – firstly with his existential horror flick Anti-Christ (which disturbed viewers with its now-notorious genital mutilation scenes) – and more recently with ill-advised comments about Hitler, which saw him banned from the Cannes film festival.