Sundance-approved comedy-drama The Skeleton Twins (Sony) examines the toxic relationship between estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids) and Milo (Bill Hader, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) who reunite after a decade.
After seeing his suicide attempt thwarted, Milo, a depressed, gay, would-be actor finds himself whisked away from Los Angeles to his small New York home town by sister Maggie. However, she has demons -not to mention suicidal thoughts -of her own, and the reunion doesn’t run smoothly. As the twins try to reconnect, they realise that the key to fixing their own lives lies in repairing their own strained relationship. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done, and old grievances soon rise to the surface.
Wiig and Hader enjoy a strong rapport, presumably honed during their years working alongside one another on Saturday Night Live, and their evident bond allows them to explore some pretty dark material. Both leads deliver powerful central performances, and despite their comedy backgrounds the pair display impressive dramatic chops. Indeed, perennial comedy sidekick Hader offers an incredibly raw, leftfield performance -one that is likely to make you see him in a new light. The Skeleton Twins is well-observed and highly accomplished -darkly enjoyable stuff.
Limp ensemble drama Third Person (Sony) weaves together the stories of three very different couples, in three different cities. The respective tales play out in Paris, where a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Liam Neeson), who recently left his wife (Kim Basinger), is having a tempestuous affair with an ambitious young journalist (Olivia Wilde); in Rome, where a shady American businessman (Adrien Brody) meets a mysterious woman with ties to people traffickers (Moran Atias); and in New York, where a lawyer (Maria Bello) is helping a young mother (Mila Kunis) in a custody battle with her famous ex-husband (James Franco).
Paul Haggis (Crash, In The Valley of Elah) used to be a filmmaker with a point to prove, but nowadays he comes across as an aimless bore. The Next Three Days was a sporadically entertaining but ultimately long-winded remake of a superior French film, and Third Person sees him scrape the barrel even harder with its meandering ensemble set-up. The cast is excellent -as good as you could wish to see in any movie -but they are largely wasted in dull, thankless roles. None of the three storylines have enough narrative clout to propel the film, and it quickly degenerates into self-indulgent stodginess. Underwhelming.
Assassin (Signature) stars Danny Dyer (Football Factory) as a sought-after killer-for-hire who breaks the rules of his profession when he falls for a beautiful young woman. But when his paymasters, the most notorious gangland brothers in London (Martin & Gary Kemp, The Krays) hire him to kill his girlfriend’s father, his world implodes and he opts to turn his back on his profession and wage war on his dangerous former acquaintances.
Danny Dyer’s crowd-pleasing EastEnders gig may have saved him from B-movie purgatory, but unfortunately Assassin sees him backslide into murky territory. Dyer has arguably delivered some of the best acting of his career in EastEnders recently, and it goes to show what a decent performer he is with a solid script (and indeed a coherent narrative) to work with. Assassin offers him neither, and fails to replicate the violent thrills of 2013’s vicious Vendetta. Dyer fans are likely to lap it up, but Assassin is cheap and cheerless.
Also out now:
In the nerve-jangling Hostages -The Complete Season One (Arrow Films) brilliant female surgeon Dr. Yael Danon (Ayelet Zurer, Angels & Demons), discovers her family have been kidnapped the night before she is due to perform surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister. The hostage-takers have one demand: “Kill the PM on the operating table or your loved ones die.” Forget the lacklustre US remake starring Toni Collette -the original is far superior. Riddled with moral ambiguities and narrative complexities, this is a cracking ten-part thriller.
The Imitation Game (StudioCanal) charts the life and times of Cambridge mathematics graduate Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock), who is recruited by the newly created British intelligence agency MI6 in 1939 to help crack Nazi codes, including the infamous Enigma. Cumberbatch excels as Turing, even if the film’s brush-it-under-the-carpet approach to his homosexuality starts to grate. The Imitation Game is watchable throughout, but ultimately too cynical and calculated to enjoy wholeheartedly. Pure Oscar-bait!