Small town secrets and vicious Viking quests are on the agenda in this week’s DVD round-up.
New US drama Banshee (HBO Home Entertainment) tells the story of a recently paroled master thief (Antony Starr, Outrageous Fortune) who assumes the identity of the incoming Sheriff of Banshee, Lucas Hood, who is killed before he can take up his post. Sparks promptly fly as ‘Hood’ reconnects with his one-time lover and ex-partner-in-crime, Anastasia (Ivana Milicevic, Columbus Day), who is now living with her husband and children under the name ‘Carrie Hopewell’. Keen to give a convincing portrayal of a small town cop, the ex-con quickly makes his presence felt in Banshee, and butts heads with Amish crime lord Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen, Festen), who controls the town with an iron fist. With the help of boxer-turned-barkeeper Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison, The Wire), Hood manages to keep his dark secret hidden, but the reappearance of Ukrainian mobster Mr Rabbit sets him on a bloody collision course which he may not survive
Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) has an executive producer credit, and Banshee instantly feels far more purposeful than his ongoing vampire series, True Blood, which strayed into flabby narrative no man’s land too early for comfort. Mercifully free of household names, the well-judged cast of (relative) unknowns and the self-consciously trashy mood give Banshee an enjoyably leftfield slant, even if the quirky small town is more True Blood than Twin Peaks. Slick, vicious and engaging from the outset, Banshee contains some of the most brutal violence I’ve seen in a TV show in recent years, and writers David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper do an effective job of weaving together a solid mythology. It may not reinvent the wheel, but Banshee largely achieves what its sets out to do. In an era where a second series is far from guaranteed, Banshee punches, kicks and slices its way to a well-deserved second outing. Entertaining stuff.
Set in Viking Britain in 871AD, Hammer of the Gods (eOne/Vertigo) follows the story of young Viking warrior Steinar (Charlie Bewley, The Twilight Saga), who is sent by his dying father, King Bagsecg (James Cosmo, Game of Thrones) on a quest to find his estranged brother, who was banished from the kingdom many years before. Accompanied on his quest by a fearless band of trusty warriors, Steinar’s epic journey gradually sees him emerge as the man his father wants him to be -the ruthless, commanding successor to his throne
If rumours are to be believed, Hammer of the Gods premiered in Kuwait of all places, underlining the film’s unfortunate lack of broad appeal. HBO’s richly enjoyable Game of Thrones is the obvious stylistic influence, but Hammer of the Gods feels sloppily put together. Aimless and under-populated, the film’s low budget is noticeable throughout, and the attempts at injecting a hallucinatory mood generally fall flat. The echoes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising are similarly ill-judged, as Hammer of the Gods lacks the earlier film’s moody charge. Although the rugged Welsh backdrops are occasionally eye-catching, this ropey feature has little else to recommend it.