The Childhood of a Leader (Soda) is the ominous story of a young American boy (Tom Sweet in his debut role), who is living with his family in France in 1918 while his taciturn father (Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones) works for the US government on the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. What the precocious youngster witnesses helps to mould his beliefs, and the film charts the birth of a terrifying ego.
Sex, Leins & Videotape
Don’t Breathe (Sony) is Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez‘s follow-up to the gore-streaked 2013 Evil Dead reboot that divided critics.
The Don’t Breathe story involves a trio of young thieves – all with entirely different motivations – breaking into the house of a wealthy blind man Stephen Lang (Avatar), thinking that they can get away with the perfect crime. Their ambitious scam proves to be badly misjudged, however, and the homeowner isn’t a vulnerable old man, but a trauma-wracked veteran who was blinded in combat. Getting in was the easy part -getting out proves far harder
From a deceptively simple premise, Alvarez -and co-writer Rodo Sayagues -Don’t Breaths is a slick, satisfying picture that skilfully blends visceral thrills with nerve jangling twists. Lang is well cast as the blind man, and would-be robbers Jane Levy (Suburgatory) and Dylan Minnette (Lost) also impress. Alvarez ratchets up the tension in Don’t Breathe nicely, and while a queasy, mid-movie twist is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers, the director doesn’t really put a foot wrong. Nice work!
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Axiom Films) is the bizarre not-quite-true story of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Finnish actor Elmer Back), who travels to Mexico in 1931 -at the height of his post-Battleship Potemkin fame – determined to shoot a new (ultimately doomed) film called Que Viva Mexico. Chaperoned by his guide Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti), with whom he eventually embarks on a sexual relationship, Eisenstein enjoys a bawdy, chaotic trip. At this stage in his career, Peter Greenaway can get away with indulging his filmic passions to the hilt, and Eisenstein in Guanajuato is his most absurd -and indeed most enjoyable -movie in years. Charming, playful and wilfully uneven, it is strangely compelling concoction.
Adapted from the memoirs of Arielle Holmes – who also takes the lead role –Heaven Knows What (Axiom Films) is a grubby, gritty drama about Harley (Holmes), a young heroin addict living a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets of New York. Drugs aside, Harley’s highly charged relationship with her boyfriend, Ilya (Caleb Landry-Jones, X-Men: First Class) is equally bad for her health, and their toxic chemistry drives the film forwards. Grim and seemingly authentic, Heaven Knows What has earned plaudits for its cinema verite values, but I found it to be a gruelling, charmless viewing experience. The film has a potent raw power, but it is devoid of the kind of black humour that generally alleviates the downbeat mood in junkie melodramas. Approach with caution.
Finally, a pair of out-of-print John Carpenter movies are back on the shelves this month, courtesy of new British distributor Indicator. First up, re-released on a limited edition Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) basis is Vampires (Indiactor), the moody 1998 thriller that pits Jack Crow (James Woods) and his rag-tag, church-approved team of vampire slayers against Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who is revealed to be the first and most powerful of all vampires. Starting with the arresting opening scene at a New Mexico ‘goon nest’ where vampires are dragged out into the sunlight to burn, Carpenter presides over a number of memorably bloody sequences, and the film’s central mythology is satisfyingly quirky. It may not be top-drawer Carpenter, but Vampires is definitely worthy of reappraisal.
Altogether less successful is 2001’s Ghosts of Mars (Indicator), the lukewarm sci-fi/horror fusion which prompted Carpenter’s semi-retirement from filmmaking. Natasha Henstridge -six years after her breakthrough role in Species -improbably heads a squad of soldiers who are dispatched to the now-terraformed red planet to escort notorious convict Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) back home. When they arrive they discover that the mining colony is deserted, and only later do they realise that the miners have been possessed by the ghosts of an ancient Martian civilisation, prompting bloody scenes or carnage as they attempt to fight off their ghoulish enemies. The eclectic cast (which includes Jason Statham and Pam Grier) is great -particularly Ice Cube -but the creaky aesthetic, stodgy plotting and weak dialogue means that the whole project falls badly flat.
(Note: both Indicator titles are limited to 5,000 copies apiece. When the initial run is sold out, they will still be available on Blu-ray, just without the DVD or accompanying booklet.)
Following the back-to-back successes of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), William Friedkin’s reputation took a critical mauling thanks to a series of misfires, and it was 1985 before he bounced back with the bloody, amoral To Live and Die in LA (Arrow Video).
When his veteran partner is murdered just days before retirement, Secret Service Agent Richard Chance (William Petersen, Manhunter) embarks on an obsessive cat and mouse hunt for the suspected killer -psychotic counterfeiter Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe). What follows is a hard-edged, adrenalized thriller that sees Chance stop at nothing in his quest to nail his target.
Often described as a West Coast companion piece to The French Connection and its New York grit, To Live and Die in LA is every bit as good as its predecessor. The soundtrack -courtesy of British New Wave group Wang Chung -lacks subtlety, but now feels weirdly contemporary in a post-Drive cinematic world. Casting-wise, William Petersen is an extremely charismatic leading man, and he brings a real energy to the proceedings. Dafoe, meanwhile, proves that gawkiness is not a stumbling block when portraying villainy, and the pair prove to be well-matched adversaries.
Cool, nasty and weird, To Live and Die in LA is a cracking 80s thriller, and if -like me -you missed it first time round, make sure you check it out.
The Shallows (Sony) follows Nancy (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl), an American tourist who has put her life on hold for a Mexican surfing vacation. The secluded beach that she finds herself on looks idyllic at first glance, but things turn ugly when the daylight starts to fade, and it becomes apparent that the cove is the preferred feeding ground of a great white shark. Although she is only 200 yards from shore -stranded on a rocky outcrop -her situation becomes increasingly precarious as high tide approaches
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has established himself as a safe pair of hands in recent years, helming pulpy Liam Neeson collaborations such as Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Wisely, he opted not to tap up Neeson for this gruelling surf-survival thriller, and Lively delivers an admirably committed lead performance, boosting her reputation considerably in the process. Lively reportedly accepted the role because the script reminded her of her husband Ryan Reynolds’ impressively claustrophobic Buried, and the comparison proves to be an apt one.
The Shallows’ premise is deceptively simple, but the action is extremely well executed, and the grisly set-pieces hit the spot every time. All in all, an impeccable B-movie.
Charles Bronson remake The Mechanic may have done solid box office business back in 2011, but it is still a genuine surprise to see a sequel –The Mechanic: Resurrection (Lionsgate) -emerge after all this time. The plot sees retired hitman Arthur Bishop (Statham) blackmailed into eliminating three notorious criminals by sadistic crime boss Crain, with new girlfriend Gina (Jessica Alba) dangled as the bait. The initial set-up is more long-winded than it needs to be, but as soon as the movie picks up the pace it delivers an impressive array of fight scenes and some audacious stunt-work. Tough-guy-with-a-heart Bishop is largely indistinguishable from other Statham characters -this movie could realistically be a sequel to anything that he has made over the last decade -but he delivers the goods regardless. Statham may be firmly situated within his comfort zone, but Mechanic: Resurrection still represents a crowd-pleasing turn from the UK’s most reliable action star.
Elstree 1976 (Soda) takes us back in time to suburban North London in the late 1970s, when the original Star Wars movie was shot. Nobody involved had any idea quite how big the film would become, but for the extras and supporting actors -many of whose faces were hidden behind masks or beneath helmets -what could have been an insignificant notch on their CV continues to cast a shadow over their lives four decades later. For this film, documentary maker Jon Spira tracked down a cross-section of these actors and extras -David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) are arguably the best known -to find out how Star Wars has affected, and continues to affect, their lives.
Despite the (understandable) absence of the marquee names, Elstree 1976 makes for strangely enjoyable, weirdly addictive viewing, and the smaller the roles are, the more distorted the experiences seem. Amusingly, one of the biggest sticking points for the contributors is the bitterly contested hierarchy of convention attendance!
They don’t make blockbusters like they used to, and this is a timely reminder of quite how unassuming Star Wars was before it became a pop-culture phenomenon.
Also Out Now:
Tim Roth recently returned to the small screen, starring in a well-received BBC remake of 10 Rillington Place (Indicator). The stomach-churning 1971 original stands the test of time admirably, boasting a genuinely unnerving lead performance from Richard Attenborough, who plays real-life serial killer John Christie. When Timothy Evans (a young John Hurt) and his wife (Judy Geeson) rent a tiny room in Christie s terraced house, they are unaware that they have sealed their own fates and that they will fall foul of Christie’s demented scheme. Shot in the street where Christie’s crimes were perpetrated, Richard Fleischer’s stark retelling uses exteriors from the actual house as part of its grim recreation of the events. The technique is startling, and latent nastiness oozes from every scene. Horribly compelling.
One final retro title this week is the cult 1981 slasher movie Happy Birthday To Me (Indicator). Directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear), it is a cheap, nasty low-budget effort with an amusingly chaotic pre-production story. Popular high school senior Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) survives a freak accident but suffers from memory loss and traumatic blackouts. As she attempts to resume a normal life, her friends are being ruthlessly murdered one by one. But will she be the next victim or is she the killer? Cheerless and sometimes incoherent, this movie is about as inessential as 80s B-movies get.
After the visually impressive – but weirdly half-baked – Only God Forgives back in 2013, Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn returns to form with The Neon Demon (Icon).
Tom Leins heads back to the 80s for this week’s home entertainment round-up
52 Pick Up (Arrow Video) -based on the excellent Elmore Leonard novel of the same name -ranks as one of the more unlikely productions from B-movie titans Cannon Films, although anyone who has watched the superb Electric Boogaloo documentary will already know that there was more to Cannon than Chuck Norris and his action jeans!
Helmed by John Frankenheimer (French Connection II, Ronin) the movie stars Roy Scheider (Jaws) as Harry Mitchell, a successful businessman whose life threatens to fall apart when a compromising videotape of him and his mistress Cini (Kelly Preston) becomes a tool for blackmail. Unable to go to the police without compromising the political career of his wife Barbara (Ann-Margret), he is forced to take matters into his own hands, and trawl the sick underbelly of the city in search of the men blackmailing him -a rag-tag bunch of pornographers and killers.
With a screenplay co-written by Leonard himself, 52 Pick Up is an appropriately grubby thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. Whereas the worst Leonard adaptations (Big Bounce, Be Cool) have been broad, garish and played for non-existent laughs, 52 Pick Up actually has the sleazy, violent feel of a 70s Elmore Leonard book (despite being made in 1986!). With a stand-out supporting role for Clarence Williams III as drug-addicted hitman Bobby Shy, and cameos from a series of 80s porn stars, the milieu is perfectly judged, and a stony-faced Roy Scheider is a good choice for the taciturn Mitchell -a man determined to reset his own wonky moral compass.
52 Pick Up is a cult classic that deserves to be rediscovered, and indeed ranked alongside the very best movie adaptations of Leonard’s work.
This week’s second title is brought to us courtesy of a brand new UK distributor Indicator (part of Powerhouse Films), which has lined up a seriously impressive list of Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) limited editions, complete with archive bonus features and booklets.
Released in 1984, the sleaze-drenched Body Double (Indicator) was director Brian De Palma’s unlikely follow-up to Scarface. After losing his job on a low-budget vampire movie due to his claustrophobia, unemployed actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is asked to house-sit at a luxurious hillside apartment by his friend Sam (Gregg Henry). Jake is delighted to find that Sam has rigged up a telescope to spy on his sexy neighbour Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton), who performs a striptease in front of her bedroom window the same time every night. When Jake discovers another man is also spying on Gloria, he begins an obsessive surveillance of her, and his obsession leads him into the murky twilight world of X-rated film, where he encounters the eye-catching Holly Body (Melanie Griffith, in one of her first major roles), whose behaviour offers some bizarre parallels to that of Gloria
Body Double plays out like a Hitchcock-goes-hardcore 80s death-trip, and De Palma’s dual obsession with Rear Window and Vertigo is allowed to run wild throughout. Deliberately provocative and dangerously voyeuristic, Body Double is part LA neo-noir, part 80s erotic thriller, but harder and nastier than anything else that occupied the mainstream at that time. David Lynch toyed with this kind of freakiness in subsequent years -and earned much greater acclaim in the process -so Body Double is clearly ripe for reappraisal, and this well-judged re-release comes at a great time.
It may have been reviled upon its initial release, but this movie feels like Brian De Palma’s vision at its undiluted best. Disturbing? Yes. Self-indulgent? Yes. Brilliant? Hell, yes!
Also Out Now:
Re-released on a limited edition Dual Format basis just in time for Halloween is Christine (Indicator), John Carpenter’s memorable 1983 version the Stephen King novel of the same name. The movie -which tells the story of a geeky, unpopular high school student whose life is altered forever when he acquires a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury with a dark past -holds up very well, and its bloody mash-up of 1950s teen culture and genre horror is still a striking combination. Initially dismissed by Carpenter as just a ‘job’ that he felt would give his career a boost after the initial critical backlash against The Thing, Christine has earned an appreciative cult audience in subsequent years, and remains compelling viewing. Great stuff.
(Note: both Indicator titles are limited to 5,000 copies apiece. When the initial run is sold out, they will still be available on Blu-ray, just without the DVD or booklet.)
After 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2013’s Iron Man 3, Shane Black’s directorial hot-streak continues with The Nice Guys (Icon).
Rabid Dogs (Metrodome) is a French remake of the cult Mario Bava movie of the same name (made in 1974, but not released until 1998), courtesy of first-time director Eric Hannezo.
After a violent bank heist goes haywire, a posse of gun-toting criminals drag their hostages -a young woman (Virginie Ledoyen, The Beach), a father (Lambert Wilson, Matrix Reloaded), and his sick daughter -on an increasingly unhinged road trip, as they try to elude the cops, heading for the border with their loot. As the body count rises, tensions between the criminals mount, and the likelihood of any of them getting out of the situation alive decreases dramatically…
The original movie’s torturous route to release is an interesting story in itself, and this unlikely re-tread will likely nudge curious viewers -myself included -in its direction. Tense and propulsive in equal measure, the new film is slick and compelling for the most part, and the occasional lapses into B-movie theatrics are easy to overlook. The casting is well-judged across the board, and Hannezo has definitely marked himself out as a director worth keeping an eye on. Flawed, but bloodily entertaining.
(Note: I’m not even sure if this film actually made it to release. Last week it was reported that Rabid Dogs distributor Metrodome entered into administration, which is a real shame. Although a lot of Metrodome’s titles were straight-to-DVD landfill, the company had a strong track record within the art-house/world cinema/left-field segments, and released acclaimed movies such as The Secret In Their Eyes and What We Do In The Shadows in recent years. A sad end for a distinctive UK distributor.)
Inspired by true events, Eddie the Eagle (Lionsgate) tells the story of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service), the unlikely 1980s British ski-jumper who never stopped believing in himself, even after everyone around him had dismissed him. With the help of disgraced, but charismatic, coach Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman, X-Men), Eddie takes on the ski-jumping establishment and sets himself on a collision course with the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Taron Egerton delivers a tremendously likable performance in this sickly-sweet feel-good caper, but your enjoyment of the film will ultimately depend on your threshold for cheerfully manipulative Brit-flicks! The heart-warming underdog story ticks a lot of boxes, but Eddie’s slow rise to the ski-jumping summit takes on an unavoidably repetitive quality as the movie unfolds. I hope for director Dexter Fletcher’s sake, he manages to crawl out of the feel-good nostalgia cul-de-sac he has ended up in, as his directorial debut Wild Bill was an excellent home-grown thriller, and comfortably surpasses both Eddie The Eagle and 2013’s Proclaimers-themed ‘jukebox musical’ Sunshine on Leith.
Louder Than Bombs (Soda) is the English language debut from acclaimed Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st). Three years after her untimely death, an upcoming exhibition celebrating famed war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher) brings her eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) back to the family home, forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) and his withdrawn younger brother Conrad (Devin Druid, Louie) than he has in many years.
Louder Than Bombs hooked me with its vivid, striking trailer -to which the end-product has little resemblance! Instead, Joachim Trier has fashioned a well-crafted, but weirdly aimless arthouse melodrama. The performances are generally strong, but none of the characters feel fully fleshed out -a problem for such a contemplative piece -and the story never quite rings true. Over-long, overwrought and needlessly repetitive, Louder Than Bombs misses its target.
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The Colony (Signature), starring Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, hit the headlines recently when it earned just £47 on its opening weekend! Watson stars as Lena, an air hostess whose desperate search for her abducted boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Bruhl, Rush) draws her into the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a sexually abusive cult run by ex-Nazi Paul Schaefer (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). While Watson, Bruhl and Nyqvist undoubtedly have the required star power to keep the movie afloat, the drama is unfortunately sluggish, and ends up sapping the sinister story of its raw power. Unfortunately dreary stuff.
Brutal Brit-grit, electronica-fuelled Euro-crime and Nicolas Cage nuttiness are all on the agenda in this week’s DVD round-up.
After testifying against her abusive father, Shelly (Lauren McQueen, Ordinary Lies), finds herself rehoused on a downtrodden Liverpool sink estate, with her volatile older brother Andy (Derek Barr) and her vulnerable younger brother Jerome (Callum King Chadwick).
A petty thief, Shelly spends her days roaming the estate and docklands in search of opportunities, before flogging her ill-gotten gains at one of the area’s pawn shops. It isn’t long before Shelly attracts the attention of charismatic local loan shark Mikey Finnegan (Stephen Lord, EastEnders, Shameless), who quickly develops an unhealthy interest in her. At the same time, Shelly crosses paths with an enigmatic young girl named Rachel (Brogan Ellis), who becomes similarly fixated with her, even if her motivations are less than clear. After being told that her father is to be given early parole, Shelly sees no option but to go to the manipulative Mikey for help, but at what cost
The Violators (Bulldog Film) is the directorial debut of acclaimed author Helen Walsh, who made major literary waves with her excellent debut novel Brass back in 2004. Like that book, The Violators unfolds in Liverpool, albeit further down the social strata, with pawn shops, pubs and patches of waste-ground looming large. McQueen delivers a tremendous performance as Shelly, and the remainder of the little-known cast are similarly impressive. While the thriller dynamic that comes to the fore in the final third of the film feels slightly forced, the compelling performances and unforgiving narrative are already under your skin. Tense and menacing throughout, The Violators is a dirty gut-punch of a film, and on this evidence, writer-director Walsh seems destined for a similarly compelling second career.
In Disorder (Soda) Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust & Bone) is an ex-French Special Forces soldier, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan. When he returns home he is given a bodyguard job, protecting Jessie (Diane Kruger, Anything For Her), the wife of a shifty, well-connected Lebanese businessman. Enchanted by Jessie, and suffering from debilitating hallucinations, Vincent is unable to cast off the role of alert on-duty soldier, and becomes obsessed with the idea that the woman he is protecting is in danger from a strange outside threat.
Disorder is a sleek, engaging Euro-thriller, buoyed by the strong performances of its heavyweight leads. Schoenaerts is well-cast in the lead role, and while Disorder isn’t in the same league as Rust & Bone, and particularly the visceral Bullhead, it is nice to see the actor playing to his strengths once again, after a series of dubious Hollywood roles (The Drop notwithstanding!). The lush visuals and propulsive Drive-esque electronic soundtrack give the film a welcome gloss, even if the narrative does ultimately veer out of psychosis-drenched edginess and into more formulaic territory. Worth further investigation.
Also Out Now:
Heralded in some quarters as a return to form for Nicolas Cage, The Trust (Signature) is an off-kilter buddy movie that was first aired on US satellite TV station DirecTV. Downtrodden Las Vegas cops Jim Stone (Cage) and David Waters (Elijah Wood) join forces to stage an off-the-books investigation into a bailed heroin dealer. Discovering the dealer’s huge underground safe beneath an apartment building, they hatch a plan into the safe for their own ends. An initially dialled-down (it doesn’t last!) Cage is on highly watchable form, and Wood offers solid support, but despite some neat interplay from the two leads, the stodgy narrative eventually falls flat. Diverting, but uneven, and ultimately, less than the sum of its parts -the Cage comeback will have to wait until the hotly-tipped Dog Eat Dog!
Set in Georgia -the former Soviet republic, rather than the south-eastern US state –Landmine Goes Click (Icon) opens with three young tourists trekking across the mountain terrain. Things take a hellish turn however, when one of them, Chris (Sterling Knight, Melissa & Joey), steps on an armed landmine, leaving them stranded. The situation goes from bad to worse when local hunter Ilya (Kote Tolordava) arrives on the scene -determined to exploit the youngsters’ desperation for its own perverted means. After an unconvincing start, Landmine Goes Click improves noticeably when the sadistic mind games start. The foot-on-landmine scenario is stretched out longer than initially seems possible, but director Levan Bakhia switches things up with a brutal, unexpected final act. Not quite good enough to secure cult classic status, but Landmine Goes Click offers enough visceral thrills to please B-movie horror junkies.
Reckless (Arrow Video) -originally known as Zipper -tells the story of Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy) a high-flying federal prosecutor whose one-off experience with a high-end escort turns into an all-consuming addiction. With his moral compass hopelessly out of sync, Sam’s newfound ‘hobby’ threatens to destroy his marriage and his career. Matters are complicated further by the presence of Coaker (Ray Winstone, Sexy Beast), a grizzled journalist and old family acquaintance, who suspects Sam’s extra-marital exploits and plans to expose him. The A-list cast ensures that Reckless is never less than watchable, but the film takes itself far too seriously, and lacks the kind of brazen thrills that made the erotic thrillers of the late-80s and early-90s so memorable. Desperately underwhelming.
Based on JG Ballard’s seminal novel of the same name, High-Rise (StudioCanal) follows Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager), who -reeling from a family tragedy -moves into a new apartment block two miles west of London, seeking solace in soulless anonymity.
Arresting Swedish drama The Here After (Soda) tells the story of John (played by teen pop star Ulrik Munther), who has just been released from a juvenile detention centre for an unspecified crime.
Rather than move to another town, John returns to his rural family home to stay with his conflicted father (Mats Blomgren) and younger brother (Alexander Nordgren) in the hope of reintegrating into society. Understandably, his fellow pupils -and the local community at large -struggle with his reappearance, and the youngster makes no effort to explain himself, and is seemingly willing to silently soak up their hate. Misfit new girl Malin (Loa Ek) is intrigued by John and his dark past, but the rest of his peers are noticeably less keen, and it isn’t long before he is faced with a rapidly intensifying campaign of aggression -which endangers everyone around him.
The Here After is a minimalist, slow-burning picture that makes effective use of its chilly rural backdrop. Poland-based Swedish director Magnus van Horn ratchets up the tension without ever really offering up any clear-cut hints as to what John has done, and who exactly he has hurt, and the sporadic snatches of detail will likely frustrate as many viewers as they hook. For a non-trained actor Munther (Sweden’s answer to Ed Sheeran, apparently!) delivers an impressively subdued performance as John, and his haunted expression suggests that he is well aware that his real sentence has only just begun.
Brit-flick fans may recall 2007’s Boy A, which explored similar territory, with a pre-Spider-Man Andrew Garfield in the lead role. For my money, The Here After isn’t quite as powerful as that film -the crime at the root of this story remains wilfully obscure -but it is an impressive piece of work nevertheless. Grim but compelling.
In Point Break (Warner Home Video) -a remake of the cult 1991 movie of the same name -young FBI agent, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey, The November Man), is tasked with infiltrating a team of thrill-seeking elite athletes -led by the charismatic Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez, Carlos). Bodhi and his posse are suspected of carrying out a spate of daring, globe-trotting robberies -all of which are seemingly linked to a set of ‘ordeals’ proposed by a dead eco-warrior named Ono Ozaki. Cue back-to-back scenes of big-wave surfing, wingsuit flying, sheer-face snowboarding, free rock climbing, and high-speed motorcycling!
This dubious remake was always going to feel like sacrilege for action movie fans of a certain age, but aside from the characters’ instantly recognisable names, the links to the original are few and far between, and the film ranks as more of a reinterpretation. To give credit where credit is due, some of the stunts are pretty jaw-dropping, but the film’s chief drawback is its grim-faced, humourless approach. Edgar Ramirez offers a solemn, brooding take on Bodhi, which suits the mood of the remake, but falls short of Patrick Swayze’s more magnetic take on the character. Co-star Luke Bracey, meanwhile, lacks Keanu Reeves’ knockabout enthusiasm, and feels like a hard figure to root for.
The glum mood is probably best typified by Ray Winstone’s oddly muted turn as Angelo Pappas, which offers none of Gary Busey’s madcap charisma, and generally finds him loitering uncomfortably, glowering and smoking. Point Break retooled for the extreme sports generation isn’t necessarily a bad idea on paper, and the action scenes are very well executed, but ultimately this stodgy re-tread feels pointless and weirdly joyless.
In Grimsby (Sony) -the movie previously known as The Brothers Grimsby -Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen, Ali G) is a sweet-natured but dim-witted football hooligan who lives in the titular fishing town with his nine children and his besotted girlfriend Dawn (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect). Despite living in domestic bliss, Nobby still yearns for his little brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong, Kick-Ass), who Nobby hasn’t seen for 28 years -after they were separated as kids. Sebastian, however, has followed a very different path, and now works as one of MI6’s deadliest assassins. Inevitably, his mission to foil an imminent global terrorist attack is complicated by the hapless Nobby’s sudden re-emergence, and the two brothers embark on an increasingly bizarre globe-trotting caper.
The action-comedy is an awkward beast to pull off, and unfortunately Sacha Baron Cohen falls well short of the required standard with this lukewarm effort. Grimsby is portrayed in an unflattering manner that would even elicit groans of sympathy from residents of Kazakhstan, and the post-Shameless working class shtick feels as stale as most of the jokes. Borat and Bruno both struck comedy gold as a result of Baron Cohen’s willingness to insert his characters into awkward real-life situations, whereas Grimsby relies solely on its B-movie plot to generate amusing scenes.
Sure, Grimsby is intermittently funny, but a worrying amount of the gags were downright cringe-worthy. The climax -which plays out against the backdrop of a successful English football tournament (!) -is especially unfortunate, given England’s recent on-field displays, and even this manages to contribute to the weird, unconvincing mood. Watchable, but disappointing.
The oddest release of the week is undeniably Asian Connection (Soda Pictures), which stars an impressively swollen Steven Seagal as Thai drug lord Gan Sirankiri! No, I can barely believe it either, and I have actually watched it! A pair of cocky expatriates, Jack and Sam, unwittingly steal Sirankiri’s money when they rob a small-town bank in Cambodia and quickly become the target of the mobster’s vengeance. The duo are swiftly pressed into service as bank robbers by one of Sirankiri’s duplicitous stooges -lest the big man unleash hell on them -and a bullet-strewn cat-and-mouse game ensues.
Committed Seagal fans will have witnessed similar atrocities over the last decade, and at least this effort gets him away from his increasingly drab Eastern European stomping ground for a while. With a clunky script and an amateurish cast, Asian Connection is pretty bloody appalling! Happily, Seagal makes no attempt at a Thai accent, and only his chunky Thai medallion and voluminous tunic suggest he isn’t on home territory. Asian Connection is an extremely weird release from the normally excellent arthouse label Soda, but it does earn a bonus point for the tag-line ‘The Beast is in the East’!
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Strangerland (Kaleidoscope) is set in the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, where the lives of Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) are flung into chaos when they discover that their two teenage children Tommy and Lily have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits. Menacing cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving) leads the search for the missing youngsters, and the town slowly begins to turn against the Parkers Kidman puts in an admirably committed performance, in what is apparently her first independent Australian feature since 1989’s Dead Calm, but it isn’t quite enough to shine through the stifling, desolate mood which envelops the film like the dust storm. Strangerland’s strongest feature -the suffocating atmosphere -is also its main weakness, and the stodgy narrative quickly lapses into grief-stricken melodrama.
In The Disappearance -The Complete Series (Arrow Films/Nordic Noir & Beyond) Julien and Florence find themselves in every parent’s worst nightmare when their daughter Lea, a promising straight A-student, goes missing after attending a music festival in Lyon. While Florence tries to maintain a semblance of normality for her other two children, Julien embarks on a mission to find Lea, after holding himself personally responsible. Meanwhile, lead investigator Inspector Molina leaves no stone unturned, and everybody’s deepest, darkest secrets gradually come tumbling out into the open. If you enjoyed the first series of home-grown mystery Broadchurch and the Anglo-French crowd-pleaser The Missing, The Disappearance is likely to hold a degree of appeal. The twists come thick and fast, and while some of the plot developments drag the narrative into unashamed soap opera territory -and stretch the show’s credibility to breaking point -it is slick and well made for the most part.
Trumbo (eOne) is the colourful true story of Dalton Trumbo -at one time Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) stars as the title character, one of a number of important film industry players who were blacklisted from Hollywood and jailed in the 1940s due to their Communist sympathies. Marginalised by figures as diverse as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott, JAG), Trumbo is cast aside by all of the major Hollywood studios for 13 long years. However, after serving his prison sentence, Trumbo hatches a plan to insinuate himself back into the movie business by teaming up with B-movie producer Frank King (an excitable John Goodman) to write under a pseudonym, alongside his blacklisted buddies.
Trumbo’s story is undeniably compelling, even if the fall-and-rise narrative curve gives the film a shameless Oscar-bait type dynamic. Cranston -who was indeed nominated for an Academy Award for his role -hams it up to within an inch of his life, but his committed performance is still gripping regardless, and he keeps the film on track, even when the whiff of narrative phoniness threatens to engulf the story. Buoyed by an eclectic supporting cast -including the likes of Louis CK, Diane Lane and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje -the film is extremely watchable throughout. If you can overlook the occasional episodes of narrative clunkiness, Trumbo is great fun.
Boulevard (Kaleidoscope) tells the story of Nolan (the late Robin Williams in his final onscreen role), a married, middle-aged banker, whose life has congealed into a grim, unfulfilling dirge. One night, driving home from work, Nolan does something impulsive, and picks up a young male hustler Leo (Roberto Aguire, Pretty Little Liars) -just to talk to. A relationship quickly develops, not based on sex, but on Nolan’s loneliness. However, as he becomes more attached to Leo, he puts his marriage, and his career, in jeopardy.
Williams gives a tremendously restrained performance as a meek man finally trying to be true to himself after a lifetime of living a lie, but the film lapses into understated dreariness and ultimately underwhelms. Dito Montiel’s directorial career has been characterised by his penchant for macho crime movies (Fighting, The Son of No One, Empire State), and I was surprised to see his name on the credits here. Interestingly, it is only really in the sporadic flickers of aggression -courtesy of Leo’s pimp Eddie (Giles Matthey, True Blood) -when the film actually comes alive.
The fact that it is Williams’ final role definitely gives the movie added poignancy, but Boulevard never really rises above its fairly simple premise, and flatters to deceive. It may be an unpredictable end to a sometimes unpredictable career, but Boulevard is destined to rank as a footnote in Williams’ career, rather than a genuine swansong.
Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith (and another book by, erm, Jane Austen) Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (Lionsgate) unfolds in 19th century England, where a mysterious plague has emerged, and the land is overrun with the undead. Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) is a master of martial arts and weaponry. Casting aside personal and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Control) must come together on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie hordes and, inevitably, discover their true love for one another
Despite its funny -for a while at least -premise, and its excellent ensemble cast (also including Charles Dance, Lena Headey and Matt Smith), Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a seriously awkward movie, and loses its way as it trudges towards the end of its 107-minute run-time. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is comfortably better than the previous Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and although this assessment doesn’t count for much, it feels like it is worth pointing out regardless!
This is an aimless zombie of a movie -more dead than alive -stumbling blindly down narrative dead-ends in search of laughs that never really materialise.
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The Seventh Fire (Metrodome) is an intriguing documentary about the Native American gang problem. When Rob Brown, a charismatic gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he is forced to confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into the heart of his beloved Ojibwe community. Running in parallel, Rob’s 17-year-old protÃ©gÃ©, Kevin, dreams of becoming the most powerful dealer on the reservation, and seems destined to follow in his older friend’s drug-ravaged footsteps. It may be uneven -and some of the attempts at imbuing the desolate landscape with a lyrical quality fall strangely flat -but The Seventh Fire feels grim and authentic throughout. A fascinating, troubling glimpse into an environment rarely chronicled on film.
2013’s The Tunnel was a surprisingly good Anglo-French spin on The Bridge, the memorable Danish/Swedish co-production which has earned cult status with fans of Scandi-noir.
After a promising debut series back in 2012, and an electric follow-up in 2014, Line of Duty has honed its absorbing, detail-heavy storytelling approach into a fine art.
To binge or not to binge? Tom Leins presides over a TV box-set bonanza.
From the creators of Damages, Bloodline -The Complete First Season (Sony) tells the story of the Rayburns, the owners of a plush Key West resort, and seemingly the keepers of the island’s darkest secrets.
Sicario (Lionsgate) is a brutal, unflinching journey into the heart of the US government’s covert War on Drugs, courtesy of visionary Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Enemy).
Scandinavian skulduggery in The Bridge Season 3 leads the way this week’s batch of sequels, threequels and reboots.
The Bridge is the critically acclaimed Danish-Swedish co-production that has spawned multiple re-makes across the world. The drama was set in motion back in 2011 when Sofia Helin first starred as socially awkward Swedish detective Saga Noren, who is forced to work with her Danish counterpart, Martin Rohde, (Kim Bodnia) after the discovery of a dead body on the Ã˜resund Bridge, which connects the two countries.
The BBC has produced a string of memorable cop-shows in recent years, including the likes of Happy Valley, Line of Duty, The Fall and Good Cop. River (Arrow Films), which was created and scripted by Emmy Award winner Abi Morgan (Suffragette, The Iron Lady), is the latest addition to the list.
Stylish French cop-show Witnesses (Arrow Films), which recently aired on Channel 4, is now available to buy on DVD.
80’s B-movies, superhero self-indulgence and Sean Penn on the warpath -the latest DVDs reviewed.
Neill Blomkamp’s latest movie is a mess, but it is still head-and-shoulders above the rest of this week’s DVD releases.
Chappie (Sony Pictures) is the latest movie from South African sci-fi maverick Neill Blomkamp, whose previous credits include District 9 and Elysium.
In near future Johannesburg the authorities have invested in armour-plated artificial intelligence attack robots, and the crime-ravaged city is patrolled by this new, mechanised police force. However, when one droid, Chappie, is stolen by a posse of criminals (played by Ninja and Yolandi Visser of South African band Die Antwoord, and Jose Pablo Cantillo of Sons of Anarchy) and re-programmed, he develops the ability to think and feel for himself. Chappie’s creator, British engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) is desperate to rehabilitate the innocent, childlike robot, while the hoodlums seek to repurpose him for their own dubious ends. Complicating matters further is Australian soldier-turned-engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, X-Men) who plans to undermine the government programme with his own competing weaponry.
Jazz-fuelled jitters, loft-space liaisons and hijacked heating oil -200 not out for Paignton’s favourite film critic!
Whiplash (Sony) tells the story of Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller, Divergent), an ambitious young jazz drummer, who is determined to rise to the top of the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Tormented by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew yearns to become one of the jazz greats of his generation, and is determined to do whatever it takes. A chance encounter with Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons, Spider-Man) -an instructor notorious for his brutal teaching methods -sees Andrew plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the school’s top jazz ensemble. However, Fletcher’s uncompromising approach pushes him to the brink of his abilityâ€”and his sanity.
Any viewers only familiar with JK Simmons from his genial turn as Ellen Page’s Dad in Juno will be in for a surprise here, as his Terence Fletcher is one of the most memorably unhinged movie villains in recent memory. For my money, Fletcher is even more fearsome than Simmons’ Vern Schillinger character in cult HBO prison drama Oz. By way of comparison, Schillinger was a neo-Nazi and jail-house rapist! The flashes of Fletcher’s humanity that emerge as the film progresses only serve to make his jazz despot more terrifying. That said, Simmons quite literally meets his match in Miles Teller, whose blood, sweat and tears performance will take some beating.
On paper, Whiplash sounds like a fairly ghastly proposition, but director Damien Chazelle has concocted a bizarrely thrilling little movie out of the unlikeliest material. Excellent stuff.
A remake of the 2008 Dutch language Belgian movie of the same name, The Loft (Signature) examines the toxic fallout that follows the discovery of a murdered woman at a penthouse apartment shared by five married men. The illicit loft-space is the brainchild of high-flying architect Vincent (Karl Urban, Dredd), who invites his best friends to use the building as an illicit bolt-hole for extramarital liaisons. However, the sleazy fantasy is ruptured when Luke (Wentworth Miller, Prison Break) discovers a woman’s dead body handcuffed to the bed, leading the five friends to suspect one another of her murder. As the interrogation unfolds, the number of potential suspects increases dramatically, and the men’s respective agendas come into play.
Part erotic thriller, part murder mystery, The Loft is a generally watchable, occasionally awkward drama that should find a receptive audience on DVD. As the film reaches its conclusion the backlog of twists feels slightly unwieldy, but the lead actors are compelling enough to keep you watching. Interestingly, Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust & Bone) -arguably one of the standout performers here -reprises his menacing role from the Belgian original. All in all: sleazy, but worth a look.
Set in New York City during the crime-ridden winter of 1981, A Most Violent Year (StudioCanal) follows heating and oil firm proprietor Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) as he struggles to protect his business interests. Always looking for a way to expand his business, Abel does things by the book. However, when he becomes the target of opportunistic thieves, and a number of his trucks go missing, he takes matters into his own hands and decides to track down those responsible. Frustratingly lacking in actual violence, the latest film from JC Chandor (All Is Lost) is a low-key thriller that prizes elaborately constructed moral dilemmas over visceral action. The attention to detail is hugely impressive, but the narrative fails to ignite, and the film suffers as a result. Impeccably crafted, but ultimately underwhelming.
Set in Brighton, The Sleeping Room (Second Sight) tells the story of young prostitute Blue (Leila Mimmack), whose visits to an old Victorian house to meet her client yield a dark secret involving an ancient brothel and a Mutoscope (an early motion picture device) showing homemade snuff movies. Blue attempts to uncover the mystery of the hooded figure committing the crimes, only to end up in a queasy world of pain… The Sleeping Room is a respectable exercise in Brit-horror, albeit one that suffers from some frustratingly erratic plotting. Despite its brisk 75 minute run-time, The Sleeping Room still manages to out-stay its welcome. Inside The Sleeping Room is a shorter, better movie, fighting to get out!
Jason Momoa has had one of the strangest career trajectories in Hollywood, notching up roles in the likes of Baywatch Hawaii (who knew?), Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones, before landing his biggest break yet by securing the role of Aquaman in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Based on a story by celebrated crime author Dennis Lehane, The Drop (20th Century Fox) takes place in the Brooklyn underworld where ‘money drops’ are used to funnel cash to local gangsters.
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.
Warfare, dementia and martial arts -this week’s biggest DVDs reviewed.
Set in April 1945, during the final days of World War 2, Fury (Sony) follows Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt, World War Z), a Sherman tank commander who leads his veteran crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.