Sex, Leins & Videotape #54. Paignton film critic Tom Leins casts a critical eye over this week’s most interesting DVD releases.
Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema (Anchor Bay) is a violently enjoyable drama, akin to a South African City of God. Ostensibly charting the rise and fall of Lucky Kunene, Gangster’s Paradise is a vivid look at crime and punishment in modern-day South Africa.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities available for a bright, hard-working teenager from the slums of Soweto, young Lucky falls in with Nazareth, a Russian-trained ex-ANC soldier with an axe to grind against the Apartheid-wracked society. Nazareth’s crime spree escalates from car-jackings to armed robberies, and before long an audacious heist backfires and the most of the gang find themselves incarcerated or gunned down by cops. Sensing it’s time for a change, Lucky flees to Johannesburg, where he makes an honest living as a taxi-driver. However, after finding himself on the receiving end of a violent car-jacking, Lucky’s priorities shift once more and he embarks on an ambitious new scam
Lucky reinvents himself as a property entrepreneur and vows to clean up the city’s crime-ravaged tower-blocks and evict the corrupt landlords -handing the power back to the impoverished residents. As the scheme gathers momentum, Lucky’s hoodlum empire starts attracting unwanted attention from cops and fellow gangsters alike and its success hangs in the balance. With the increasingly erratic Nazareth out of jail and installed as hired muscle, Lucky’s Robin Hood act threatens to unravel and it looks like all of his hard work will be ruined, unless he can pull something out of his formidable bag of tricks. What Gangster’s Paradise lacks in Hollywood gloss, it makes up for in twisted morality, and for the most part, the energetic pace manages to conceal the low budget. All in all: a neat twist on the well-worn gangster movie formula, injected with a healthy dose of exotic colour. Entertaining stuff.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan has carved a reputation for wringing unexpected drama out of the British political landscape, and his latest project is The Special Relationship (Optimum), a British-American co-production that originally aired on HBO. After appearing as Tony Blair in previous Morgan projects The Deal and The Queen, Michael Sheen stars once more as the former British prime minister. The Special Relationship follows the exploits of a younger, ruthlessly ambitious Blair as he seeks to hitch a ride on Bill Clinton’s coat-tails, and elevate himself into the higher echelons of the political spectrum. However, as Blair’s star rises, Clinton’s wanes, and Blair takes every opportunity to boost his own burgeoning reputation. Although Dennis Quaid’s Bill Clinton begins as a mind-boggling caricature, as the movie unfolds he becomes increasingly hypnotic, and you get a genuine sense of Blair’s devotion to the man nicknamed ‘The Big Creep’.
Despite being derided by American critics, The Special Relationship is a heavyweight TV movie driven by a pair of great performances. Admittedly, the transatlantic political idiocy on display has already been brutally satirised by the awesome In The Loop, lessening the impact of this film somewhat, but Morgan’s persuasive script is still undeniably effective. Considering Tony Blair’s ongoing attempts to rehabilitate his ruined reputation, The Special Relationship offers a timely dissection of the man’s chameleonic agenda. Interestingly, the scenes at the end of the film featuring George W. Bush were reportedly left on the cutting room floor, suggesting that Michael Sheen may yet contort his features into Tony Blair’s rictus grin again in the future.
Buoyed by the presence of Australia’s ‘next big thing’ Xavier Samuel (star of Twilight: Eclipse), Road Train (Optimum) is a quirky road-trip horror movie from Down Under. Early indications suggest that the movie is going to follow in the well-worn tyre-tracks of Duel and Road Kill, but it isn’t long before the movie swerves into far stranger territory Run off the road by a monstrous diesel truck, four young friends find themselves in the middle of the Outback, at the mercy of the truck’s maniac driver. An attempt to turn the tables on their tormentor see them hijack the vehicle and make a break for freedom, but it soon becomes apparent that the demonic vehicle has a mind of its own!
Part survival horror, part supernatural yarn, Road Train makes effective use of its unforgiving outback location, and the charismatic cast manage to imbue the more ridiculous scenes with an admirable degree of sincerity. Some of the hallucinatory ‘mental disintegration’ sequences are slightly heavy-handed, but Road Train is unpredictable enough to keep you onboard. Not a classic, but an engaging curio with a smattering of inventively grisly scenes. Dodgy but entertaining.
Supposedly inspired by true reports of human trafficking rings operating out of Toronto, Sweet Karma (Anchor Bay) is a cheap, nasty revenge movie starring Canadian-born model Shera Bechard. Bechard stars as Karma Balint, a mute Russian girl who finds herself abandoned when her protective older sister signs up to become a housemaid in Canada. Upon learning that her sister has been found dead in the woods of Southern Ontario, Karma ventures to Canada hell-bent on discovering the truth and punishing those responsible for her sister’s murder. Her investigation leads her through Canada’s sordid underbelly and Karma is forced to play dirty in order to gain the upper hand against the murderous Russian sex traffickers who dominate the sleazy underworld.
Despite a neat premise and a sexy lead actress, Sweet Karma feels cheap and nasty throughout -and not in a good way. Badly hamstrung by the lamentable lack of budget, Sweet Karma is almost unwatchable at times, but the weirdly compelling narrative and irregular doses of excitement are just enough to stop you from reaching for the ‘off’ switch. What’s more, I don’t mind admitting that the climactic twist left me genuinely surprised! If it was made 35 years ago, Sweet Karma would probably be hailed as an undiscovered exploitation classic. Instead, it’s far more likely to end up gathering dust on the greasy shelves of a branch of Poundland near you