Movie reviews: downloads and DVDs

It’s Movie Monday which means crime-thrillers, murder mysteries, sci-fi fantasy, Eurocrime and Nordic noir; mainstream, indie, art-house and B-movies. Recent screenings feature Stellan Skarsgård, Persian vampires, Gillian Anderson, Ving Rhames, Victor Garber and Lance Reddick. Eclectic? Exactly.

TheGuestTHE GUEST: savvy super-soldier action thriller
This got off to a slow start but is worth holding your water while the director establishes the scene and the charismatic central character. Once it got moving, we were glued to it.

We know from the offset that there’s something not-quite-right with ex-soldier David, who insinuates himself into the grieving family of a fallen comrade. He’s a little too controlled and definitely has his own agenda; they’re too busy bitching and in-fighting to notice. By the time his subtle manipulation has taken effect, each of the family members know that something is very definitely wrong. But in a neat moral dilemma, while his increasingly violent behaviour benefits them, they’re none too inclined to blow the whistle on him…

At first you feel as if this has the potential to turn into a hack-n-slash ‘who’s next?’ killer-thriller. Then it swerves into the psychosexual menace of Cape Fear. Just when you’ve got it pegged, the narrative and style take another unexpected turn. Throughout it all the script is smarter than most A-list flicks, and Dan Stevens puts in a roaring performance as a clean, quick, cold-blooded killer who possesses no qualms but *all* of the moves.

The Guest is a crowd-pleaser in places – you’ve almost gotta cheer when the high-school bully-boys get what’s coming to them, ditto with the scene with the backstreet gun dealer. The ultimate show-down shoot-out probably stretches credulity just a little too far, and we’ve seen the final-final (or was it?) twist done before (by Hannibal Lecter, wasn’t it?) But that’s almost part of the fun.

Oh, and it was great to see Lance Reddick in bad-ass action.

Surprisingly satisfying. 8/10

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT: atmospheric, accomplished arthouse

GirlsWalksHomeA vampire flick very much in the world cinema / arthouse style (even if it was filmed in California!) with excellent performances from the quirky cast, and a brilliantly claustrophobic environment created by the cinematographer. It veers perfectly from genuinely sinister to comic absurdity without missing a beat.

The filming is a bit self-consciously arty in the opening 15mins, with some monster focus pulls and a deliberate ‘action off screen’ style, but then it settles down to tell a simple but bewitching story. The final scene is close to cinematic perfection (and I don’t often say something like that); a stunning example of subtle physical acting revealing massive emotional turmoil. There’s almost no dialogue, but the actors express appalled shock, rage, betrayal, release, comprehension, acceptance, understanding, reconciliation and redemption, beautifully portrayed without veering into melodramatic hizzyfits.

So while this isn’t quite as bewitching as Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s excellent entertainment for adult vampire / arthouse fans. Dialogue is in Iranian, subtitled in English. Several quite violent scenes (well, it is a vampire movie. What did you expect?)

Oh, and how could I not mention the cat? The cat. That cat deserves a movie all of its own. It’s not just a cat used as a pivotal plot device, but an uncannily compelling actor. 8/10

 

CONTINUUM: time travel tosh

ContinuumThis is midlife crisis melodrama masquerading as sci-fi. It’s not connected to the TV series, but is an entirely separate film, with nada SFX and not a lot of science fact. The cast caught our attention (Gillian Anderson! Victor Garber! Rufus Sewell!) but perhaps the presence of Haley Joel Osment should’ve set alarm bells ringing…

If you enjoy domestic dramas which explore the nature of loss, and how different people experience grief and mourning, then this is your kinda film. The time-travel twist is just a MacGuffin to crowbar the characters into a situation where they could go back and ‘fix’ a past crisis. Given some better scripting and delicate direction, it might’ve been compelling viewing, but instead it labours its points about living in the past and not letting go, or erasing lost loved ones from memory.

The cast struggle to bring some gravitas to their situations: VictorG admirably attempts to make solving equations look interesting, but Gillian Anderson’s neurotic collapse feels so against type that we couldn’t quite credit it. The younger generation simply came over a whiney, self-obsessed ingrates. Hmm. Maybe that was intentional.

We stuck it through to the end, intrigued to find out what would actually happen, so plainly the plot had its moments. But once the film was finished we were left with a significant ‘so what?’ sensation, accentuated by dozens of plot-hole questions (like, why did he go back to find Einstein anyway?)

Oh, and that has to be one of the worst time-travel sequences ever seen. A sun-lamp in a sauna. Tch. 5/10

 

IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE: black comedy, deeply Nordic noir

OrderofDisappearanceYou’d expect a Scandinavian noir / thriller to be brutal and bloody, emotionally gruelling and nuanced. You might not expect it to be laugh-out-loud funny, splattered with richly black humour at gloriously inappropriate moments. The skill of the film-makers is that within this intriguing plot and pitch-perfect performances they also smuggle some social and personal truths under the radar. Look out for the comment on differing needs for a welfare state, and watch the beautifully portrayed implosion of a long-term marriage; destroyed by inexpressible rage and a need to place blame on the blameless.

Was wonderful to see such a good turn from Stellan Skarsgård centre stage (instead of just playing the token foreign bloke in American films). Also look out for the actor who portrays ‘The Count’. He’s a star, and puts in a superb, almost OTT but gets away with it performance. Loved the tongue in cheek commemorative notices as the body count rose, too. Oh, and the fabulous snowplough landscape shots. And…

A brilliant Nordic interpretation of the Hollywood staple revenge movie. I may have to watch it all over again. If you’re pining for Fargo, this’ll fill the gap. 9/10

 

CHRYSALIS: gives Luc Besson’s Lucy a run for its money

ChrysalisThe French have a real knack for near-future noir, and Chrysalis is a smart, stylish example of the genre. It’s presented with sufficient visual panache to overcome the few flaws in the plot, and features a couple of simply superb close-quarters, no-holds-barred fight scenes.

If you’ve become bored with the sight of two blokes simply thumping each other for half an hour – watch this. You’ll wince and flinch with the gripping, gouging and grunting as two evenly-matched opponents tussle for survival.

But the action sequences are just the icing on a clever cake, one which presents series of interwoven plot threads against a bruised, blue-black palette of Paris, someday soon. A chunk of military super-tech has been stolen (this is one of the weak point in the plot so don’t think about it too hard) by an agent turned rogue, who happens to have recently killed the hero’s wife. The tech can be used to create / destroy super-soldiers or special agents, by replacing their personal memories with artificially induced ones. One of the scientists now experimenting with this tech has a very personal reason for doing so…

Chrysalis uses this theme to explore the nature of memory and personality, with a couple of clever twists which serve to confuse / develop ideas about who is who. At one level it’s a straightforward police investigation, using underworld contacts to trace the missing tech. On another level it’s a debate about the nature of love and loss, about living with grief. Or not.

The director can’t resist some moments of grandiose filming, either: there’s a chase sequence through a warehouse which is absurdly complicated and captured in one long sweeping shot. Another scene shows future-tech surgery, beautifully rendered in virtual reality, which demands a near-perfect performance from the actress involved. The two male leads are likewise excellent; simmering kegs of barely-contained aggression. But the female cop, partnered with the hero to nudge his investigation along, is a lot less credible.

Overall, Chrysalis is imaginative, inventive and cleverly presented. It’s not outright action-adventure, but instead blurs the boundary between sci-fi and Eurocrime… which is fine by me. The French dialogue is subtitled in English, and the ‘making of’ documentary is interesting too. 8/10

 

THE RIVER MURDERS: close, but no cigar

RiverMurdersThe River Murders is a must-try-harder second rate serial killer thriller which could have been brilliant with a slicker script and tighter direction. Instead it wastes an intriguingly nasty plot and some excellent actors. Ray Liotta and Ving Rhames put in solid if unremarkable performances; only Christian Slater seems to grab the opportunity and run with his character, a suitably sneering and cynical FBI agent who can’t quite believe that a middle-aged detective from Spokane notched up a hundred girlfriends before meeting his wife… and that someone is now killing those old girlfriends in a biblically gruesome manner.

The premise certainly had promise, but the leaden weight of dull dialogue and the utterly unbelievable interactions between the cop and his wife (‘oh, so someone is brutally murdering every woman you’ve been intimate with? And I’m inevitably on the list? Oh well; must get on with buying fish’) effectively neuter a surprise ending or any chance of real suspense.

We soon meet the bad guy – and it’s pretty easy to guess his back-story. Every scene with Slater in it has some sparkle; the rest of the film is workmanlike but hardly remarkable. There are some interesting subplots, like the river/water/rain theme, but this isn’t used to any great effect. Ditto the potential debate about the difference in male/female sexuality which barely gets a nod. By the end, we’d kinda lost interest in whether the final victim lived / died / ran off to join a circus, which probably sums up the whole film.

Not awful, but a real waste of a great opportunity and several excellent actors. 7/10

 

BEYOND
Imagine sitting through 90 minutes of fraught domestic quarrelling, between a young couple who’ve had a kid which he definitely didn’t want and she said she couldn’t possibly have… but somehow conceived anyway. Now they’re saddled with a brat, he’s lost his job, won’t go work in her parent’s pub because his pride can’t stomach it, and any hint of true lurve which existed between them has evaporated into the ether leaving only a very bad smell.

That’s the core of this poor ‘romantic drama’. It’s nothing more than a shriek, superficial coming-of-age tale in which young people have to stop partying and face the blindingly dull responsibilities of having a family.

The sci-fi / alien invasion / post-apocalyptic thread is little more than window dressing. If you found this film looking for sci-fi then move along, there’s nothing to see. This is more like one of those BBC ‘play for today’ productions; a grim northern drama of people behaving stupidly.

So bad I’m not even going to show you the misleading cover art. It’s that bad.

———-

All reviews by Rowena Hoseason

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