Sex, Leins & Videotape #25. Tom Leins casts a critical eye over this week’s top releases, and discovers a new TV series that gives the movies a run for their money!
Last year was a great year for TV fans, with top shows like True Blood, Fringe and Breaking Bad all vying for our attention. However, one of the most surprising small screen success stories was Sons of Anarchy -Season 1 (Fox), a thrilling biker drama created by former Shield writer Kurt Sutter.
The Sons of Anarchy are a rugged outlaw biker gang who marshal the small California town of Charming, keeping the area free of undesirables, whilst maximizing their own criminal enterprises. Leader Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and his wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) rule the biker club with an iron fist, but trouble is brewing in the form of Gemma’s son Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) who is resisting the Sons’ increasingly dangerous sidelines. When Jax discovers his late father’s journals, he realises that Clay’s vision for the gang is very different from his father’s original outline, and struggles to rationalise the group’s violent behaviour.
With 13 taut, brutal episodes Sons of Anarchy makes for compulsive viewing throughout, and the show alternates between domestic disharmony and bullet-strewn biker turf wars. Ron Perlman excels as the aging hard-man Clay, and Brit actor Charlie Hunnam puts the horrors of Green Street behind him, as the charismatic Jax. Even better is Katey Sagal (best known as sex-starved Peggy Bundy in Married With Children), who gives us one of the most darkly compelling female protagonists in recent memory as the devious Gemma. Edgy and unpredictable, with a subversive line in Shakespearean family dynamics, Sons of Anarchy is a damn fine US import, that looks set to go from strength to strength when Season 2 hits our screens imminently. If you are still mourning the loss of shows such as The Shield and Oz, Sons of Anarchy is definitely capable of filling the void.
(Icon) is a chaotic sci-fi/horror hybrid that wears its Alien influences on its sleeve! As the movie commences, two crew members onboard the Elysium wake up from ‘hyper-sleep’ with no knowledge of who they are, how long they have been asleep or where they are heading. They quickly realize that the ship is going into meltdown, and attempt to rectify the situation, while simultaneously trying to establish what actually happened to their ship during transit. Overwrought Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) sets out to prevent the nuclear core from overloading (encountering a rag-tag posse of survivors in the process), while middle-aged Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) spends the movie brooding in the control room -presumably aggrieved that the puzzling set-up is quickly losing its lustre!
Although Pandorum has a nice line in slick, moody visuals, director Christian Alvart struggles to balance the two strands of his story, and Pandorum feels mind-boggling and absurd in equal measure. The desperate director chucks a lot of disparate ingredients into the melting pot, with only partial success. Nevertheless, in a genre too often bereft of inspiration, Pandorum’s abundance of ideas is probably something to applaud. Falling halfway between enigmatic mood-piece and grisly slasher flick, this is a perplexing exercise in style-over-substance. Pandorum isn’t a bad movie -just a confused one. Glorious failure or bizarre mess? I’ll let you be the judge of that!
The Human Contract (High Fliers) marks the directorial debut of Jada Pinkett Smith (AKA Mrs Will Smith). It tells the story of corporate high flyer Julian Wright (Jason Clarke), whose lucrative business interests start to spiral out of control when he becomes infatuated with the strangely named Spanish artist (Paz Vega). As his emotions reach boiling point, Julian is troubled by some obscure, deep-rooted family trauma that still gnaws away at him.
Although the jealousy-streaked affair is convincingly rendered, unknown leading man Jason Clarke lacks the charisma to make you care about his character. In fact, Jada Pinkett Smith would have been better served by casting his co-star Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from ‘The Wire’) in the chief role. Hell, even supporting player Ted Danson would have been a better option! Sadly, considering it sets itself up as an erotic thriller, The Human Contract is strangely lacking in both eroticism and thrills – which makes it fairly difficult to recommend. Jada Pinkett Smith may well have a good movie inside her. Unfortunately, this isn’t it
Russian sci-fi movie The Interceptor (Optimum) is the first instalment in a projected trilogy about Matvey (Igor Petrenko), a glum-looking Special Forces operative who is guided by ‘a celestial brotherhood of time-shifting angels’! Tipped by Russian insiders as ‘the new Nightwatch’, The Interceptor has far more in common with the dubious military action movies that Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal started making in Bulgaria after their careers imploded! As for the supernatural subplot -that’s just plain distracting!
Although they were an acquired taste, at least Nightwatch and Daywatch boasted a kinetic energy and a distinctive vision. In comparison, The Interceptor is dull, humourless and strangely draining. I like dodgy straight-to-DVD action movies as much as the next man (unless the next man is Steven Seagal!) but The Interceptor is fairly awful. That said, there are a handful of enjoyably quirky fight scenes that suggest the sequel would be far better dispensing with all of the supernatural nonsense and plunging straight into mindless Transporter territory!
Open Graves (Icon) is a defiantly average spine-tingler about a group of photogenic surf bums who discover a malevolent Spanish board game known as the Mamba -only to become entangled in its sinister supernatural web when they actually start to play. As the death-toll rises, Erica (Eliza Dushku) and Jason (Mike Vogel) attempt to investigate the roots of the trouble, and discover that the game was actually made out of the skin and bones of a witch executed during the Spanish Inquisition!
Suffice to say, in order to undo the carnage Erica and Mike have to return to the game and reverse the Mamba’s twisted spell. Despite an engaging premise, Open Graves follows a well-worn narrative curve that will offer few surprises for jaded horror fans. There are a handful of appropriately grisly set-pieces to make you sit up and take notice, but Open Graves lacks tension, and the bland cast don’t have what it takes to keep you hooked. Hot on the heels of the ropey TV series Dollhouse, Eliza Dushku really should start picking her projects more carefully!