Paignton film critic Tom Leins gets to grips with borstal, artificial insemination and Nazis in this week’s DVD round-up. (And there’s even an Oscar winning thriller chucked in for good measure!)
Set in a violent juvenile detention facility, Dog Pound (Optimum) is a brutally efficient prison drama that charts the intersecting paths of three youngsters -Butch (Adam Butcher), Davis (Shane Kippel) and Angel (Mateo Morales) -as they struggle to adjust to life on the inside.
Cocky ladies-man Davis has been caught in possession of a bag of pills, whereas naÃ¯ve Latino Angel got collared after a botched car-jacking. Butch, on the other hand, has been transferred from another juvenile facility after gouging out an over-aggressive guard’s eye with a shank. When it becomes apparent that the detention centre is dominated by a brutal prison clique, the new arrivals gravitate towards one another, and try to watch each other’s backs. However, it’s easier said than done, and the newcomers are set on a collision course with their cell-block tormentors.
Dog Pound has earned criticism for its predictable narrative curve, and while it’s true that it ticks off well-worn prison scenes one by one, the charismatic young cast inject the movie with enough spark to keep things fresh. Adam Butcher is particularly impressive as Butch, a young man with anger management issues and violent tendencies, and the actor is sure to have a bright future ahead of him. Despite the unrestrained rage he carries with him through the film, Butch’s principled behaviour means that he is undeniably the anti-hero of the piece, and he exudes an impressive level of ferocity throughout.
With shades of classic HBO prison drama ‘Oz’, and a sprinkling of Bad Boys-style conflict (the Sean Penn version, rather than the Will Smith version) Dog Pound will delight fans of prison movies, even if neutrals may struggle to see what all of the fuss is about. That said, fans of Scum might not be quiet so impressed with Dog Pound, as for large spells Kim Chapiron’s film is dangerously in thrall to Alan Clarke’s seminal borstal TV drama, bordering on plagiarism at times. Nevertheless, intense stuff.
After scooping the prize for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, The Secrets In Their Eyes (Metrodome) has a massive reputation to live up to. Thankfully the hype is entirely justified, and this richly atmospheric murder-mystery displays a terrific grasp of narrative guile and visual flair. Retired criminal court investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is haunted by the unsolved 1974 murder of pretty young school teacher.
Determined to try his hand at writing a novel inspired by the murder, Benjamin finds himself sucked back into the grisly case, desperate for personal and professional closure. Unfolding on a dual time-line, The Secrets In Their Eyes explores the elderly Benjamin’s perspective on the case that got under his skin as a jaded investigator. His enduring fascination with the case leads him back into the confidence of Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a prosecutor-turned-Judge who also got under Benjamin’s skin in the ’70s -for entirely different reasons.
Directed by Argentine film-maker Juan J Campanella, who is best know outside of his homeland for directing American cop-shows -not least the enjoyably disturbing sex crimes series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Secrets In Their Eyes allows Campanella to break free from the confines of network drama and show off his directorial skills -which he does to often dazzling effect. One of the high points is a particularly mesmerising scene that unfolds at a football match, and sees our intrepid protagonists track a suspect through a seething crowd of football fans and into the underbelly of a stadium. The scene, which took three days to film, reportedly involved three months of pre-production and nine months of post-production, and that level of attention-to-detail speaks volumes about Campanella’s devotion to the cause. Impressive stuff.
Originally known as ‘The Baster’, The Switch (Lionsgate) tells the story of Kassie a 40-something career woman who is so concerned by the ticking of her biological clock that she hires a sperm donor to provide her with the necessary ‘ingredients’ to produce a little bundle of joy. In a slightly unnerving case of life imitating art, Kassie is played by 40-something career woman Jennifer Aniston, who seems to spend much of her time bemoaning her own biological clock. As we well know, the rest of her time is spent churning out blandly interchangeable rom-coms, wherein she plays to type with a determination that borders on the obsessive. Although her career has been peppered with offbeat comedy gems like The Good Girl and Office Space, The Switch sees Aniston back on safe ground, with the bulk of the humour left to Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Juno). Bateman stars as Wally, Kassie’s best friend, whose self-deprecating demeanour struggles to conceal his hurt at being put in the ‘friend zone’ by Kassie several years earlier. However, his life changes forever when he drunkenly disposes of the suave sperm donor’s payload at Kassie’s ‘insemination party’ and decides to fill the empty test tube himself.
The Switch is based on a short story by celebrated author Jeffrey Eugenides, whose previous novels include The Virgin Suicides, which was memorably brought to the screen by Sofia Coppola back in 1999. Anyone anticipating another dreamy meditation on sexual awakenings is likely to be disappointed, however, as after a snappy, unexpectedly edgy opening, The Switch reverts to type and replaces Bateman’s embittered self-loathing with far soppier outlook.
Considering how good the first half an hour of the film is, The Switch develops into a disappointingly bland standard-issue rom-com, capitulating in the laziest way possible as it reaches the finale. I would like to have seen The Switch re-imagined with under-used co-stars Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum installed in the leading roles instead. Especially if Goldblum starred as The Fly’s eccentric scientist Seth Brundle. It would be fascinating to see what he could achieve with a turkey baster full of semen! (Be afraid, be very afraid.)
Rarely has a thriller been less thrilling than Betrayal (Optimum), a haplessly disjointed examination of corporate corruption in Nazi-occupied Norway. Tor Lindblom (Fridtjov Saheim) owns glamorous Oslo nightclub, the Club Havana where he negotiates shady deals to supply the Nazis with everything from cigarettes and liquor to cement and steel. Unfortunately, when Third Reich auditor Dr Walter arrives in town, it looks like the scam being perpetrated in conjunction with Major Kruger (Gotz Otto) is going to be rumbled. Factor in the presence of sultry club singer Eva (Lene Nystrom), a British double-agent with ties to the Gestapo, and you have a messy situation that is only going to get messier. Unfortunately, the film itself is a mess, too, and struggles to channel its sense of righteous indignation into a cohesive narrative.
With even Norwegian critics deriding it as amateurish, it is impossible to imagine who is actually going to enjoy Betrayal -apart from the families and friends of those involved in its production. Writer/director Haakon Gundersen displays a palpable sense of outrage at the behaviour of the corporate fat cats who got into bed with the Nazis as a way of lining their own pockets, but the narrative is dull and badly thought out, and the story gets lost in the mix. Framed by dubious Titanic-style opening and closing sequences -set in modern-day America -where a now elderly Eva looks back at her escape from Europe, Betrayal is a misguided attempt at shining a light on one of the uglier episodes in Norwegian. Speaking of ugly episodes in Norwegian history: Lene Nystrom, who plays showgirl Eva first found fame as the lead singer of Aqua, the Euro-pop group who topped the charts with the hideous Barbie Girl single. It doesn’t get much more disturbing than that. Ugh.