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.