In our bid to broaden our filmmaking coverage we thought we’d share this Ghetto Film School release which breezed into our in-box. It popped in on Monday, March 21, so we’re guessing the event was a success. But there’s loads of info to glean, so we thought we’d share it nevertheless. Plus you get to see two of the films
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The International Dublin Film Festival runs from February 16 to February 26. Here’s what you can expect from the film fest (sponsored by Audi, hence the A to the DIFF), which includes Vanessa Redgrave, Nathalie Baye, Kerry Fox, Ross Noble, Ben Wheatley, and Anna Friel joining top Irish talent Jack Reynor, Moe Dunford, Cillian Murphy, John Butler and Aiden Gillen on the red carpet.
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.
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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.
The awarding of the People’s Choice to Timi Ajani and Hana Elias for their film The Search Party closed another creative melee (so much more dignified than a riot) of short film and celebration of local, regional and international talent that took place at the Exeter Phoenix for its Two Short Nights extravaganza -now in its 15th year.
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.
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.
A rare opportunity is being extended to the people of Devon to ask questions of the filmmaker of the highly-acclaimed Robert MugabeWhat happened? in the Barn Cinema’s Afrika Eye film series this November, showing during Bristol’s Afrika Eye Festival.
The Long Shot is filmmaker Karen Turner’s debut documentary. It’s about Paralympian athlete and mountain biker James Bevis. We caught up with Karen before the film’s Exeter Phoenix premiere and found out about amazing stories, the art of interviewing and the limitless possibilities of writing and filmmaking.
80’s B-movies, superhero self-indulgence and Sean Penn on the warpath -the latest DVDs reviewed.
Created by TV industry mainstay Michael Lannan, and inspired by his experiences as a gay man, new drama Looking (HBO Home Entertainment) offers an unflinching look at the complicated friendships and relationships of three men in modern-day San Francisco.
One Who Walks in Shadows is a gritty, brooding short set in the world of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in North Devon. We spoke to filmmaker Chester Carr of Kjarrwolf Productions about historical epics, zero budgets, cold seas and sci fi
Many actors feel drawn to sequels of films that they enjoyed themselves or were successful the first time around. Sometimes, they’re even draw to certain characters that they feel a connection to. It’s not just struggling or low-level actors that want a piece of the pie, because even top-paid actors get giddy at the idea of being a part of a franchise that they love.
The Barn Cinema at Dartington has new even comfier seats, and to celebrate its offer people the chance to win an Annual Cinema pass -that’s four free adult standard tickets per month for 12 months!
Law and disorder in the DVD section -Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest home entertainment titles.
The Heat (20th Century Fox) stars Sandra Bullock (Gravity) as Sarah Ashburn, an uptight, ambitious FBI agent, who is sent to Boston to investigate Mr Larkin, a sinister drug lord. Already struggling to win the respect of her new colleagues, Ashburn finds herself reluctantly paired with foul-mouthed, borderline unhinged local cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, Identity Thief, Bridesmaids) who introduces her to police work -Boston style. In true buddy movie style, after a rocky start the pair realise that the only person they can truly depend on is the other -especially when they take the law into their own hands and go rogue
All Cheerleaders Die is a ‘subversive’ horror film based upon a decade-old project between the film’s directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson. Its stars are relatively unknown with the exception of an un-credited and brief cameo from Michael Bowen -who was most recently seen terrorising Jesse Pinkman and Walter White as white supremacist Uncle Jack in Vince Gilligan’s, Breaking Bad.
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.
There is no shortage of blood and guts in this week’s DVD round-up!
Based on the 1995 novel of the same name by cult author Pete Dexter, The Paperboy (Lionsgate) is the story of two brothers: Ward (Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe), a successful reporter and Jack (Zac Efron, High School Musical), a college dropout forced to deliver newspapers for his publisher father. Miami-based Ward returns to his hometown in the backwater of Moat County, Florida to investigate the case of Hillary van Wetter (John Cusack, The Raven) a wrongly convicted, but deeply unsavoury character, who has been sentenced to death for murdering a sheriff. The investigation is complicated further by the sultry presence of Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman, Trespass, Stoker) a provocative floozy with a long-standing obsession with incarcerated criminals. As Ward’s pursuit of a scoop slowly gets overwhelmed by a mixture of sexual tension and enigmatic half-truths, Jack’s confidante -put-upon family maid Anita (Macy Gray) -watches in dismay as his innocence is corrupted.
Lee Daniels’ movies are an acquired taste (Shadowboxer, anyone?), and while The Paperboy is far more enjoyable than the grim Precious, it seems unlikely to duplicate the curious mainstream success of its award-winning predecessor. With a plot that takes in segregation, degradation, masturbation, exploitation and ultimately devastation, The Paperboy comes from Hollywood’s leftfield, and its household name cast prove themselves more than willing to embrace the script’s peculiarly dark themes -not least the rejuvenated McConaughey and eye-opening Kidman. Although the narrative seemingly congeals in the sticky Florida heat as the film unfolds, The Paperboy is riddled with arresting images that will linger long in the memory, and it is well worth immersing yourself in its warped world.
Set in Norway in 1363 -around ten years after the Black Death ravaged the country –Escape (eOne) follows young Signe (newcomer Isabel Christine Andreasen) as she attempts to escape from the merciless band of killers that slaughtered her family on a remote mountain pass. Although she is initially spared by the vicious Dagmar (Ingrid BolsÃ¸ Berdal, Cold Prey), at the posse’s camp she meets fellow kidnap victim Frigg (Milla Olin) and learns that a terrible fate awaits her
Director Roar Uthaug previously achieved cult status with 2006 slasher film Cold Prey, and Escape (or Flukt, as it is known in its native language) sees him team up once more with Cold Prey writer Thomas Moldestad and leading lady Ingrid BolsÃ¸ Berdal, who was most recently seen in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Chernobyl Diaries. With a brisk 77-minute run-time, chock-full of nastiness, it is fair to say that Uthaug doesn’t hang around, and Escape sees him trim the fat off an already lean idea. The (slightly disingenuous) artwork may recall The Hunger Games, but in truth the two films are poles apart, and the comparison does more harm than good. If you enjoyed the subversive Cold Prey -and Nicolas Winding Refn’s similarly brutal Valhalla Rising -then this moody little chase thriller is a solid addition to the genre.
In Stolen (Lionsgate) master thief Will Montgomery (Nicolas Cage, Con Air, Face/Off) is released from prison after serving eight years for a botched heist. Waiting patiently for him is tenacious FBI agent Tim Harlend (Danny Huston, The Kreutzer Sonata), who is convinced that Will stashed $10 million worth of stolen loot shortly before he was apprehended by the cops. Another man keen to get reacquainted with the ex-con is his former associate Vincent (Josh Lucas, Stealth, J.Edgar) who feels cheated out of his share of the spoils, and kidnaps Will’s estranged daughter Alison (Sami Gayle, Blue Bloods) as a way of forcing his former partner-in-crime to repay him. With only twelve hours to deliver a $10 million ransom to Vincent -before Alison is killed -Will enlists old friend Riley Jeffers (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) to pull off one last heist
It is difficult to put a finger on when Nicolas Cage’s career went into terminal decline -his dubious cinematic decisions arguably pre-date his oft-documented 2009 troubles with the IRS -but his recent trend for churning out generic action movies with one-word titles (Trespass, Justice, Stolen) has done him few favours. Despite a solid genre director at the helm in Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic), the movie is so lazily strung together that not even the well-judged ensemble cast can save it. The funky, retro score and Danny Huston’s improbable Popeye Doyle-style porkpie hat attempt to recall a golden age of Hollywood crime movies, but Cage’s performance is pure ham throughout.
Nic Cage’s last good (lead) performance was four years ago in 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and before that Lord of War in 2005. By that logic, Cage owes us a good movie in 2013. Unfortunately, Stolen isn’t that movie, and time is running out…
Violence and loneliness collide in this week’s DVD round-up.
Rust & Bone (StudioCanal) is director Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to the phenomenal 2009 prison drama A Prophet. Disenfranchised twenty-something Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead) dreams of becoming a professional boxer, but is forced to put his ambitions on hold when he is abruptly given custody of his five-year-old son. Hoping for support he moves in with his sister in the south of France and quickly secures a job as a nightclub bouncer. One night, while intervening in an altercation, Ali meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises), who works as a killer whale trainer at a nearby waterpark. He gives her his number, not anticipating that she will contact him, but after a tragic -not to mention life-changing -accident Stephanie turns to Ali for support, and the pair form a strange bond that deepens further when Ali plunges headlong into the brutal world of bare-knuckle fighting.
Adapted from the excellent short story collection of the same name by Canadian author Craig Davidson, Rust & Bone is a gritty, sweeping movie that belies its patchwork quilt origin to tell a coherent, often gripping story. The hulking Schoenarts may carry the film’s plot, but the ever-impressive Cotillard arguably steals the show as the damaged Stephanie. Although the storyline treads close to melodrama at times, the lead performances keep it on track, and the undercurrent of menace gives the proceedings added bite. For my money Rust & Bone is not as poetic and visceral as the book that inspired it, but it remains an emphatic piece of filmmaking that further enhances Audiard’s stellar reputation. Impressive stuff.
Sleep Tight (Metrodome) is an excursion into psychological horror from director Jaume Balaguero, who earned plaudits for the memorable Spanish zombie thriller [REC] in 2007. The film follows Cesar (Luis Tosar, Cell 211, Miami Vice), who works as a concierge to the residents at a wealthy apartment building. Although Cesar is well-liked, and likes to go the extra yard for those around him, he is harbouring a dark secret, and his main goal in life is to make the carefree residents of his building as miserable as he is. Unfortunately for her, the object of Cesar’s demented affections is the beautiful Clara (Martra Etura, Eva, Cell 211), whose spontaneity and happy-go-lucky nature are firmly at odds with Cesar’s own misanthropic world-view. With easy access to Clara’s apartment, and an unpleasant bag of tricks to delve into, Cesar’s behaviour quickly degenerates, but when her boyfriend Marcos (Alberto San Juan) unexpectedly returns home the situation gets dangerously out of hand.
The [REC] series may have fizzled out into blood-splattered silliness with [REC]3: Genesis, but on this evidence, Balaguero has plenty more tricks up his sleeve. Sleep Tight is a riveting psychological thriller, peppered with expertly rendered moments of suspense, and Balaguero wastes little time in setting out his stall. Indeed, the excellent opening scene immediately wrong-foots you, letting you know that you are in for a twisted treat. The unhinged character of Cesar offers Luis Tosar another eye-catching role following his menacing turn as Malamadre in Cell 211, and Sleep Tight’s mild-mannered desk-jockey is arguably a far scarier character than the vicious convict. All in all: a great movie that richly deserves the crossover success heading its way.
In The Package (Anchor Bay) ex-wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (The Condemned, Hunt To Kill) stars as combat veteran Tommy Wick, who picks up a steady wage as a nightclub bouncer and mob enforcer for the shadowy ‘Big Doug’. Keen to pay off his incarcerated brother’s debt to the mob boss, Tommy readily accepts whatever jobs Doug offers him, but is understandably wary when he is enlisted to deliver a mysterious package to his notorious former associate known only as ‘The German’ (Dolph Lundgren, Rocky IV). In time-honoured fashion, things quickly spiral out of control, and Tommy finds himself being hunted down by a squad of sadistic mercenaries who are keen to get their hands on the enigmatic ‘package’, whatever it is…
Since Sly Stallone gathered up all of his old cronies for The Expendables, the straight-to-DVD market has seen a resurgence in old-school action double-headers which pit a pair of washed-up action heroes up against one another for an undemanding cinematic grudge match (witness One In The Chamber, Maximum Conviction etc). This is definitely a positive development in my book, as it gives straight-to-DVD connoisseurs more bang for their buck! Lundgren has always been one of the more dependable cut-price action heroes on the circuit, and seems equally comfortable whether playing the hero or, in this case, a scenery-chewing villain. While Austin’s acting chops leave a lot to be desired, he has proven himself to be a dependable straight-to-DVD performer in recent years, making up for his unconvincing delivery by delivering blunt force trauma in all of his action scenes. While it is unlikely to make a splash outside of its core demographic, The Package is a solid enough B-movie thriller, with enough quirky moments to keep you interested.
Shot for just $500,000 on a set constructed in director William Eubank’s parents’ back garden, LOVE (High Fliers) tells the story of Captain Lee Miller (Gunner Wright, J. Edgar) an astronaut who loses contact with Earth while carrying out a solitary mission on board an International Space Station. As time ticks away and the space craft’s life support systems start to diminish, Miller struggles to maintain his sanity and the claustrophobic conditions begin to provoke hallucinatory experiences in him. Produced by Tom DeLonge (of Blink 182 fame), whose current band Angels & Airwaves also provide the film’s minimalist score, LOVE has understandably attracted attention from many quarters, but the film arguably warrants further scrutiny on its own merits. Relative newcomer Gunner Wright shoulders the film’s narrative almost single-handedly, and brings a quiet intensity to the role. Despite a brisk 75-minute run-time, LOVE doesn’t suffer from a lack of ideas, and its slick presentation belies its shoestring budget and art-house poise. It may be too slight to rank alongside its key influences like 2001, Solaris and Moon, but LOVE is an engaging curio with plenty to recommend it.
Brit-grit is the order of the day in this week’s ‘Best of British’ DVD round-up.
Ill Manors (Revolver) is the feature-length directorial debut by musician-turned-actor Ben Drew, who is better known as Plan B. Focusing on a succession of central characters based in and around Forest Gate, East London, over the course of a chaotic week-long period, Ill Manors follows Aaron (Riz Ahmed, Shifty, Four Lions) as he attempts to ‘do the right thing’ while everyone around him sinks to new depths in their attempts to make their next big score. Among his associates are cold-hearted ex-drug kingpin (turned low-rent dealer) Kirby (Keith Coggins), who has just been released from prison, vicious thug Ed (Ed Skrein) who will stop at nothing to find his missing phone, troubled junkie hooker Michelle (Anouska Mond) who is just looking for her next hit and trafficked sex slave Katya (Nathalie Press, My Summer of Love), who is desperately trying to escape from her Russian captors and get her new-born baby to safety.
After cutting his acting teeth with roles in the likes of Adulthood and Harry Brown, Ben Drew has already displayed a clear affinity for gritty material, and Ill Manors sees him move even further in this direction, with a jagged, intersecting narrative that recalls the storytelling techniques favoured by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Glued together by a selection of typically hard-hitting original songs by Plan B, Ill Manors is a striking proposition that arguably represents Drew’s darkest work to date. Although many expected his debut feature to be the long-discussed movie adaptation of the best-selling Plan B album The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Ill Manors feels like a far more ambitious undertaking. It may be grim, troubling and relentlessly downbeat, but Ill Manors is a genuinely arresting movie that marks Ben Drew out as a real renaissance man. Brutal stuff.
In The Devil’s Business (Metrodome) two hit-men are sent to murder an old associate of their underworld boss, Bruno (Harry Miller). One killer, Pinner (Bily Clarke, the upcoming Outpost 11) is a world-weary old hand, while his partner Cully (Jack Gordon, Panic Button) is a nervy youngster, more used to hooliganism than contract killing. There would-be victim is Kist (Jonathan Hansler) whom their boss wants dead, but things are not what they seem in their target’s house, and the discovery of a make-shift black magic altar -and a truly shocking sacrifice -sends the duo into a psychological tailspin.
The Devil’s Business treads dangerously close to Ben Wheatley’s uneven, but undeniably memorable, Kill List. With a mismatched duo of hit-men coming unstuck when faced with English voodoo the comparisons are strangely inevitable, but Sean Hogan’s feature pushes the supernatural elements to the fore, exploring more overtly horrific territory, especially as the film plunges headlong into its twisted second half. If The Devil’s Business and Kill List were grafted together into some kind of mutant movie, the deficiencies of both movies could conceivably be eliminated, but such a suggestion defies both logic and plausibility! Whilst Kill List undid its hard work in the last reel with a silly final scene, The Devil’s Business culminates with a scene that invokes Don’t Look Now -which has to count as a positive! With a brisk run-time and a seriously modest budget, The Devil’s Business succeeds in spite of its obvious limitations. All in all, an ominous little movie that marks its director out as ‘one to watch’.
GBH (Revolver) tells the story of Damien (Nick Nevern, White Collar Hooligan) a London cop with a murky past that he is half-heartedly trying to put behind him. Before signing up for the police force he ran with a football firm, getting involved in dust-ups up and down the country. Now he’s on the other side of the law and faces a tough decision: bail out his old crew whenever they find themselves in a sticky situation or do his job. Damien’s grim hard-hearted world-view softens slightly after falling in love with fellow cop Louise (Kellie Shirley, Eastenders), but his old instincts are pushed to the fore once more when Louise is sexually assaulted by one of his former acquaintances in riot-stricken London, and Damien attempts to combat violence with violence.
With roles for Con O’Neill (Telstar), Lorraine Stanley (London to Brighton) and Steven Berkoff (The Krays), GBH boasts an unexpectedly accomplished supporting cast, and it is a shame that -bar a slightly juicier (spit-flecked) role for O’Neill -they are largely sidelined. Although there is some snappy dialogue, GBH generally gets bogged down with a surplus of dangerously clichÃ©d chatter, not least when the characters take turns to reel out one of a number of state-of-the-nation soap-box pronouncements. Although GBH presents an impossibly bleak environment, no effort is made to alleviate the misery with dark humour, giving it a wearying tone. Grim and heavy-handed, GBH ultimately makes for dispiriting viewing. While the filmmakers deserve kudos for eschewing the cheeky chappy school of cockney characterisation, points are knocked off for the clumsy handling of the aggressively topical storyline. All in all, a very difficult film to like.
Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz are among the film-makers going under the microscope in this week’s DVD round-up.
16 years after winning plaudits from the likes of Martin Scorsese for his debut feature Bottle Rocket, Texan director Wes Anderson is still going strong, even if his later movies have largely failed to recapture the acclaim of his earlier work. Moonrise Kingdom (Universal) sees Anderson inject some fresh blood into his tried ‘n’ tested talent pool, but is it the return to form his fans crave?
Set in the 1960s on New Penzance, an idyllic island off the coast of New England, the film follows the tentative romance between twelve-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), who is attending a summer camp, Camp Ivanhoe, led by Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), and his pen-pal Suzy Bishop, who lives on the island with her uptight attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). When the love-struck youngsters run away together, ostensibly to reach a secluded cove which they name ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, various factions of the town mobilise to search for them, causing all kinds of trouble in the process. As a search party, led by local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), attempts to track them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore, promising to wreak even more havoc.
The dreamy, oddball mood that pervades all of Anderson’s work is present and correct in Moonrise Kingdom, and the film arguably boasts bags of charm, without ever lapsing into insufferable whimsy. Newcomers Bruce Willis and Edward Norton acquit themselves particularly well, with two of the funnier roles, and it would be a shame if Anderson opted not to work with either of them again. However, despite a surplus of pitch-perfect performances, the storyline falls slightly flat, meandering aimlessly rather than surging purposefully.
When the dust settles, Moonrise Kingdom is a good movie rather than a great movie, and as someone who thinks that Anderson hit his peak with The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom has done little to change my mind. While die-hard fans are unlikely to want Anderson to probe new ground, Moonrise Kingdom feels regrettably anticlimactic. Entertaining, but slight.
Dark Horse (Axiom Films) is the latest ‘comedy’ from taboo-trampling writer/director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness). In his mid-30s, Abe (Jordan Gelber, who briefly starred in Boardwalk Empire) clings to the trappings of his adolescence, including the extensive collection of action figures that clog up his boyhood bedroom. Still living with his parents Jackie (Christopher Walken, True Romance) and Phyllis (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby), Abe works for his increasingly disappointed Dad, stewing in resentment at the success of his older brother Richard (Justin Bartha, The Hangover). When Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair, Hellboy), a woman whose personal failures have prompted her to retreat to the safety of her parents’ suburban home, he believes that he has found a kindred spirit, and attempts to persuade his overmedicated love object to marry him.
Dark Horse is arguably Solondz’s gentlest film yet, but its lack of bite also means that it is his least memorable. The sub-conscious fantasy sequences involving Abe bantering with the voices in his head offer a glimpse of originality, but the stunted plot mirrors Abe’s stunted development, and goes nowhere fast. Abe himself is a singularly unlikable protagonist, and although the narrative drags him through an array of typically pitiful Solondz-esque scenarios, the film’s lighter tone doesn’t prompt enough good jokes. Solondz will never be mistaken for a man with a sunny disposition, but on this evidence, his move towards more accessible territory may yet backfire
Recent years have seen Dutch photographer/music video director Anton Corbijn branch out into feature films, with the stylish one-two punch of Control (2007) and The American (2010). Anton Corbijn -Inside Out (Momentum) sees Dutch documentary-maker Klaartje Quirijns attempt to unpick the man’s mystique and work out what makes him tick. Since 1983 Corbijn’s prolific work has quite literally shaped the identities of artists such as Joy Division, U2, Nirvana and Metallica, to name but a few. Featuring interviews with everyone from Bono to George Clooney (leading man in The American), not to mention Corbijn himself, Inside Out attempts to explore his motivations and personal conflict -with mixed success
Despite impressive credentials, and a solid roll-call of guests, big chunks of Inside Out come across like half-baked psychoanalysis, and the endless parade of Corbijn’s celebrity friends takes on a slightly wearying quality as the documentary progresses. Corbijn himself comes across as something of a gloomy loner, rather than a provocative enigma, and his reluctance to be drawn on his background has an increasingly uncomfortable edge. The spot-on soundtrack and reliably arresting imagery suggests something slightly more interesting, but in truth workaholic Corbijn doesn’t offer enough of a spark to carry a whole documentary. As an unofficial companion piece, why not try Palm Pictures’ Volume 7: The Work of Director Anton Corbijn, from its peerless ‘Director’s Label’ series, which compiles the bulk of the music videos that he honed his reputation with. That way you can judge the man on his work, rather than his murky back-story -a notion he would seemingly agree with.
Directed by Adam ‘Hairspray’ Shankman, Rock of Ages (Warner Home Video) is a star-studded re-tread of the hit Broadway musical of the same name. The film is ostensibly the story of naÃ¯ve small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough, Burlesque) and wannabe rock star city boy Drew (Diego Boneta, 90210), who works as a barman at The Bourbon Room, a popular nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Meanwhile, the club’s owner, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock), and his right-hand man, Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand), are struggling to find a way to deal with unpaid taxes that are threatening the club’s future, and view their former associate turned mega-star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) as their ticket to financial security. However, the whole city’s rock ‘n’ roll future hangs in the balance, thanks to the actions of corrupt Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) and his religious zealot wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Entrapment).
Thanks to a cringe-worthy opening scene -which features a bus-load of extras joining in with Sherrie’s opening song -Rock of Ages gets off on the wrong foot, and the film takes slightly too long to recover. Shankman’s leaden plotting -which stumbles between clichÃ©d tracks in a giddy, over-indulgent daze -heightens the film’s flaws, and the film is arguably at its best when it plumbs more surreal depths, often with Cruise as the focal point. With an exhausting two-hour run-time, which seems designed to shoehorn in as many soft-rock anthems as possible, no one can accuse Shankman of short-changing his viewers, but the repetitive nature of the songs arguably takes its toll.
It may be an utterly shameless exercise in guilty-pleasure nostalgia, but Rock of Ages isn’t without its charms. Cruise is good value as the egotistical sex-fiend Stacee Jaxx, while the likes Paul Giamatti (as Jaxx’s oil-slick manager) and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston add kudos to the proceedings. Baldwin and Brand are less successful, although their on-screen chemistry does take an eye-opening turn halfway through the film! All in all, Rock of Ages isn’t as bad as its ‘box office bomb’ status suggests, but it is far too predictable to be truly interesting.
Tom Leins is the referee as two small-screen sci-fi box-sets go head-to-head in this week’s DVD dust-up.
Produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, Terra Nova -The Complete Series (20th Century Fox) takes place in the year 2149. Planet Earth is overdeveloped and overcrowded, and the majority of plant and animal life is now extinct. The world is literally dying, and the future of mankind is hanging in the balance. Society’s only hope for survival lies in the distant past, and when scientists unexpectedly discover a fracture in time, a portal into primeval history is constructed. This scientific loophole allows the authorities to attempt to resettle humanity in the past, and get civilisation back on track. Back story established, the series focuses on the Shannon family as they join the so-called Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, and head 85 million years into the past
At the outset Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara, Life On Mars USA) is sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting a Population Control officer after he and his wife Elisabeth (Shelly Conn, Party Animals, Strike Back) were discovered to have a third child when families are now restricted to two. Two years into Jim’s sentence, Elisabeth is recruited to participate in the Tenth Pilgrimage, and helps Jim escape from prison so that he and their five-year-old daughter, Zoe, can accompany the rest of the family into the past. Despite initially provoking the ire of Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the leader of Terra Nova and the first person to arrive, Jim quickly wins the military man over with his ‘can-do’ attitude, and the ex-cop soon becomes a trusted ally.
With behind-the-scenes involvement from Alex Graves (Fringe, who directed the pilot) and show-runners Brannon Braga (24, FlashForward) and Rene Echevarria (The 4400), Terra Nova arguably boasts a stellar production line-up, all of whom know a thing or two about creating crowd-pleasing TV drama. Somewhat inevitably, it is executive producer Steven Spielberg whose reputation looms largest, and the dinosaur-heavy backdrop provides undeniable comparisons with his seminal Jurassic Park, even if he suggested a switch from Hawaii to Queensland to dissuade the obvious comparisons. The other clear influence is contemporary classic Lost, which reinvented the sci-fi survivor drama for postmodern viewers. The potential fusion of Lost and Jurassic Park is undoubtedly an arresting concept, and Fox evidently agreed, skipping the traditional pilot and ordering a full-slate of 13 episodes instead.
The fact that the show was cancelled after one series -racking up mind-boggling costs in the process -stands as a testament to its status as an ambitious failure. After a striking, compelling pilot episode, the muscular storytelling that the set-up demands never quite materialises, and most of the characters feel too bland to support the drama during its weaker moments. Similarly, the smattering of unfortunately cheesy episode endings seems designed to appease Spielberg’s familiar crowd-pleasing tendencies. Terra Nova is never less than watchable, but considering its enticing premise, and the previous work of those involved, it feels muddled and slightly underwhelming. Whether it could have evolved from a good show into a great show if it were given more time is a moot point following its cancellation, but it seems strange that the far less appealing Falling Skies (also produced by Spielberg) has now been extended for a third series
Alphas -Season One (Universal), which was created by hit ‘n’ miss Hollywood go-to-guy Zak Penn (Inspector Gadget, X-Men: The Last Stand) and his slightly less distinguished cohort Michael Karnow, follows an exceptional group of human beings with enhanced physical abilities caused by anomalies in their genetic make-up and brain structure. Rather than being marginalised by society these so-called ‘Alphas’ operate as a rag-tag unit within the Defence Criminal Investigation Service of the US Department of Defence, and concentrate on solving crimes committed by their fellow Alphas. Led by renowned neurologist and psychologist Dr Lee Rosen (David Strathairn, LA Confidential), the group includes ‘hyperkinetic’ ex-sniper Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie, True Justice); autistic ‘human antenna’ Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright, Mad Men, Bones); sexy Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell, Watchmen) who can cerebrally influence others; tough-talking ex-FBI agent Bill Harken (Malik Yoba, New York Undercover) who can tap into a ‘fight or flight’ response and enhance his physical strength; and beautiful but timid Rachel Pizad (Azita Ghanizada, General Hospital: Night Shift) who can heighten one sense above the others at any given time.
The series kicks off in fine style with a cryptic case involving a police witness who is inexplicably murdered in a locked room at a federal courthouse, before plunging the group into the warped world of the malevolent ‘Red Flag’, a terrorist organisation which is using unwitting Alphas to commit crimes on its behalf. In terms of original content SyFy (formerly the Sci-Fi Channel) is probably best known for churning out cut-price monster movies with which to cram its schedules. Indeed, there is an initial suspicion that Alphas has been conceived in the same vein, as the distinct whiff of the once-popular Heroes lingers over the show. While a few of the episodes feel like cut-price Fringe knock-offs, the quality is generally pretty high, and the charismatic ensemble cast all bring something worthwhile to the table. The fact that Alphas has already been commissioned for a second series is a fair reflection of its quality, and in an era in which a second series is far from guaranteed (see Terra Nova, above) Alphas is definitely doing something right. Uneven, but appealing.
Blood and guts are the order of the day in this week’s DVD round-up from Tom Leins.
Samsara is Ron Fricke’s first film since 1992’s Baraka and like its predecessor, Samsara is a non-narrative film. However, not only does Samsara defy the conventions of popular narrative cinema, but also our expectations of the documentary format. The film features no narrator, no dialogue or any descriptive text whatsoever. Instead, the film asks that you form your own narrative by interpreting the visually stunning cinematography. Sounds rather pretentious, but it is without doubt the cinematic event -if not film -of the year.