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Close Range

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Brit hard-man, Scott Adkins, stars as an Iraq veteran turned deserter coming to the rescue in this low budget actioner from genre director, Isaac Florentine. In the film, Colton (Adkins) has to defend his sister’s farm when her husband’s dealings with a drug cartel places them all in danger. Throw in a crooked sheriff, Colton’s mysterious military past and huge muscular frame, and this is a Jack Reacher adventure in all but name.

Adkins and Florentine have previously worked together on the frivolous but fun Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear. And whilst Close Range doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights of B-movie madness, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Getting down to brass tacks, the plot is slim, but the action is big. Adkins and numerous, almost infinite, stunt actors throw themselves at each other in a ballet of violence and bone snapping. Like Arnie did in Commando, Colton punches through one cartel member after another in pursuit of the final big bad, Fernando Garcia (Tony Perez). Unintentionally amusing is the film’s attempts to humanise these fleshy punching bags by giving them an introduction by title cards that gives each member a name that will soon be forgotten come the inevitable smack down.

And whilst the fight choreography is, at times, brutal, it’s not enough to hide the film’s problems. The acting is a mixed bag with lines delivered flatly as if read for the first time. Though to be fair, even the most award winning performance couldn’t hide the plot holes and clichés that make up the film’s script. Yet, the dialogue is mere window dressing to what Close Range really wants to show you: one man, at peak physical fitness, throwing other men through walls.

 
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Standoff

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Writer/director, Adam Alleca, clearly doesn’t like wasting time. In his debut feature, Standoff, Alleca has all his pieces in place plot wise within the first ten minutes. A young girl is a witness to an assassination attempt at a funeral by Laurence Fishburne’s Sade. With his face seen, Sade chases the young girl into the home of ex-military man, Carter (Thomas Jane). Within moments, Carter has taken her under his wing and, after a swift gunfight with Sade in which both are injured, finds himself in a standoff in his own home. Downstairs awaits Sade with a fair arsenal, whilst Carter hides upstairs with only a shotgun and one cartridge. As the day drags on, both men exchange words instead of bullets, as Sade tries to convince Carter that the girl must die.

Standoff starts off fast, and whilst the pace certainly drops once Sade has crossed Carter’s threshold, the film doesn’t suffer from doing so. Fishburne and Jane bristle off each wonderfully in a script that sees them trading insults and backstory whilst a little girl’s life hangs in the balance.

Expectations for any kind of subtlety should certainly be checked at the door as Alleca tries, perhaps a little too hard, to emphasise that these men are two sides of the same coin. He literally all but has Fishburne cry, “We’re quite alike, you and I.” But histrionics aside, Standoff still has a lot to offer, with Thomas Jane giving a grounded performance to clash with Laurence Fishburne’s own over the top one. A special note must be made of Ella Ballentine as the young girl caught up in the centre of all this machismo and bravado, who has to deal with some mature emotional responses.

 
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Intruders

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Home invasion films run a fairly predictable and tight schedule. Nice family/person have their home life interrupted by not so nice person/people. Horrible things happen till credits, and then home for tea. See The Strangers, Knock Knock, and perhaps the daddy of them all, Funny Games.

Intruders’ nice person is Anna (Beth Riesgraf), a woman with such extreme agoraphobia that she can’t even attend the funeral of the brother that she’s been caring for. An utter recluse, with her sibling dead, her only friend is Rory Culkin’s Dan, the meals-on-wheels guy who visits. During her brother’s funeral, Anna is visited by burly men looking to rob her house. Unable to leave her home for fear of the outside, Anna has to fight off her intruders. And this is where Intruders turns left instead of right, for Anna appears pretty well equipped to deal with them. This turning of tables gives Intruders that little something extra for its audience to stick around for. Unfortunately, this feature length debut by Adam Schindler doesn’t know when enough is enough.

Midway through proceedings, a revelation raises its head that, whilst interesting, taints the plot as a whole; it’s like adding a tablespoon of hot sauce to a light soup. The curtain is pulled back on Anna and, as her secrets lie exposed belly up, Intruders starts to feel a bit cheap, cashing in suspenseful storytelling for garish sensationalism. It’s as if writers, T.J. Cimfel and David White, weren’t confident enough to leave Anna’s particular backstory under a veil. A little less exposition and a little more mystery would certainly have worked wonders. Intruders at least tries to do something different, and it does manage to keep things ticking over smoothly enough before ending everything on a literal bang.

 
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Fear The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

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When it was officially announced that Fear The Walking Dead would be a prequel to the incredibly popular The Walking Dead, set before the zombie uprising, tongues started to wag about what this could possibly involve. After all, what’s the point of The Walking Dead if it doesn’t have any dead? Walking or otherwise. Those fears are, to a certain extent, mitigated upon viewing this six-part first series.

Set in the first few days before society’s collapse, the series follows high school counsellor, Madison (Kim Dickens), her boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis), and their children from previous marriages: Madison’s drug addict son, Nick (Frank Dillane); her perfect daughter, Alicia (Australian actress, Alycia Debnam-Carey); and Travis’ resentful son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie).

After a skilfully crafted opening that reintroduces the audience to the idea of cities being populated with colour and living, breathing people, the wheels of the show spin as this blended family separately pick up on unrest in their community. The opening is unjustifiably an hour long, presumably to flesh out the characters, though it mainly just stirs a desire to shout, “Get on with it!” Things certainly pick up, however, once the military come to clear up the infected, and everyone finds themselves prisoners in their own homes. This armed presence gives the series its antagonist, as the family take on roles outside of their comfort zone in order to make sense of the insanity.

As troubled Nick, Frank Dillane certainly stands out, refusing to let a zombie apocalypse get in the way of his addiction. Reminiscent of a young Johnny Depp, circa Dead Man, Dillane is continually watchable throughout. Fear The Walking Dead might not be everything that the fans could wish for, but it works not only as a companion to its parent series, but as a standalone work about real family struggles in surreal circumstances.

 

 
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Survivor

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V For Vendetta director, James McTeigue, helms this spy thriller which sees Milla Jovovich as Kate Abbott, a Security Agent working for the US embassy in London, who becomes the target of a terrorist known as The Watchman (Pierce Brosnan). Having brought in stricter vetting processes, Kate is wanted by shadowy ne’er-do-wells who would like to see her six feet under…which is where The Watchmaker enters, setting up a bomb in a local restaurant that Kate is frequenting.

Surviving that initial blast, mainly through gratuitous good luck, Kate has to then make her way through the city to a secret rendezvous point set up by her agency for just such an occasion. Along the way, she uncovers a terrorist plot, which may involve members of her team. All the while, The Watchmaker closes in on her in an attempt to tidy up his loose ends.

More Salt than Bourne, Milla Jovovich is game enough as the story becomes crushed under its own logic. It’s Brosnan who has the most fun though, lapping up the opportunity to play the bad guy as he stalks Kate through the backstreets of London. Despite pitching its tent in a stoic post 9/11 landscape, Survivor is an absurd film that would have done better by not taking itself so seriously. Having survived the initial bombing, and following protocol that is reiterated several times by her colleagues to be the right thing to do, Kate is strangely eyed-up as a potential dirty agent. It’s the kind of premise that falls apart quickly when you realise that one phone call to say that she’s alright could solve all her problems. Where Survivor does pick up points is through not falling back on the stock stereotypes of all Middle Eastern people being terrorists. That doesn’t justify everything else though.

 
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The Last Survivors

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With Mad Max: Fury Road having blazed a trail last year, and Katniss’ story coming to an end in the second part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Last Survivors arrives at a time when female characters are not simply strong because they can kick hard.

Sometime in the future, the world has been crippled by a ten-year drought. In a valley somewhere in America, a water baron by the name of Carson (John Gries) has taken it upon himself, like any good George Miller antagonist would, to round up anybody using his precious water on their dilapidated farmland. Hayley Lu Richardson plays Kendal, a young woman keeping her head whilst those around her literally lose theirs. Having managed to hide herself and her ill partner (Booboo Stewart) from the machinations of the corrupt baron and his small army, she soon finds that time and water are running out.

Visually bleached to the bone, The Last Survivors plays out like the adaptation of a Young Adult novel that’s yet to be written, where youth must triumph over the old. Kendal, however, is a resourceful protagonist who isn’t trying to lead a revolution, but just trying to survive. Richardson plays her with ruthless efficiency, and there are chills when she confesses to her boyfriend that she hadn’t planned on him surviving as long as she has.

John Gries (Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite!), meanwhile, plays Carson as the hero in his own story, forgoing the usual villain’s arched eyebrow and moustache twirling. Both Carson and Kendal don’t want to have to hurt anyone really, but needs must when the devil drives. At times, like its cast of characters, The Last Survivors looks a little rough around the edges, but it certainly achieves more than its glossy compatriots.

 
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Hidden

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In a deep, dark bunker, a young family have been surviving for over 300 days with limited light and even more limited food. Outside and above the bunker lurk “The Breathers.” With glowing eyes and Darth Vader’s respiratory problems, they stalk the night on the lookout for the family.

Hidden is a chamber piece spiked with apocalyptic sensibilities. At least to begin with anyway. Directors, The Duffer Brothers, set up a grim, bleak world which we view through the eyes of daughter, Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind), who has spent nearly a year living in fear of the mysterious Breathers, and stuck in the middle of her loving, well-intentioned parents.

Like any true parental team, mother and father want the best for their children, but choose different routes to get there. Mother, Claire (Andrea Riseborough), tries to maintain order with a series of rules intended to keep Zoe safe, but ultimately to help herself cope with their desperate situation. Meanwhile father, Ray (Alexander Skarsgard), agrees with the rules set in place, but his more relaxed, cavalier attitude causes tension. With everything going on, there’s a lot here for a child to emotionally unpack, and young star, Emily Alyn Lind, gives a strong, emotional, and heart wrenching performance.

As deliberately paced as the film is, Hidden picks up speed when an attempt to destroy a rat in their makeshift kitchen leads the family to exposing their hiding spot to the things upstairs. From this point on, Hidden takes a sharp turn from thriller to something altogether different. It’s a gut-punch of an ending, and it’s a testament to the cast that things stay as grounded as they do.

 
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Bound To Vengeance

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Revenge films, particularly those where the protagonist is a terrorised woman being brutalised by a gang of men, can easily fall under scrutiny for their lurid eye. These Femsploitations, as recently as the rebooted I Spit On Your Grave trilogy, are sometimes too focused on the victimisation of their protagonists, as opposed to their eventual bloody vengeance. Jose Manuel Cravioto’s Bound To Vengeance skips this problematic ghoulishness by setting its sights firmly on what really should be the selling point of these films in the first place: the revenge.

When we’re first introduced to Eve (Tina Ivlev), she is being held captive in a dark basement by Phil (Richard Tyson). Spotting an opportunity, Eve escapes his clutches, but upon realising that he has other women incarcerated around town, she forces Phil to help her set them free…but not everything is as it seems. Despite Eve’s best intentions, her white knight attitude puts her into contact with people who are not as strong as her. PTSD, Stockholm Syndrome, and even indifference to their own plight means that Eve struggles to rally the troops.

Bound To Vengeance is a brutal film that doesn’t rely on brutality. Reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive, Only God Forgives) aesthetic, its slick neon visuals offset its grimy underbelly. Whilst it could have been an excuse for 90 minutes of violence towards women, the film’s onus is very much on the aftermath of Phil’s brutal campaign of fear and abuse towards his “sweethearts.” We’re not invited to be a silent participant wallowing in their suffering, but we’re sure as hell going to be there when Eve storms the Bastille. With grounded performances from Ivlev and Tyson, this is an excellent indie thriller that tries to do something a little different from the norm.

 
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Legend

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Screenwriter turned director, Brian Helgeland’s penchant for brutal noir (Payback, L.A Confidential, Man On Fire) gels easily with the British gangster genre’s droll humour and casual violence.

This project sees him in the director’s chair charting the tale of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the twin gangster brothers of sixties East End London. Reggie (Tom Hardy) is the charming rogue and club-owner criminal. Ronnie (also Tom Hardy) is a paranoid schizophrenic, certified insane until Reggie blackmails a shrink and orchestrates his release from an institution. Out in the world, Ronnie is a hair trigger; he’s violent, brutal, openly gay in a time of repression, and willing to use its shock value to provoke violence. The brothers form an antagonistic partnership with club owner, Leslie Payne (David Thewlis), who facilitates an alliance with US Mafioso, Angelo Bruno (Chazz Palminteri). Around the same time, Reggie meets the meek and mild Francis Shea (Emily Browning) and falls in love. All the while Ronnie, a crazed and manic time bomb, wants to go to war with the world, permeating the plot with the stench of inevitability.

There have been Kray cinematic treatments before (notably with Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp), but this take on the tale lulls the uninitiated into its gloss and period excess until it’s interspersed with horrifically jarring violence, though clearly that’s the point that Helgeland is trying to make. Hardy is a true movie star, and here he is astonishingly good in one of the best depictions seen of one actor playing twins on-screen, rivalling even that of Jeremy Irons in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. It’s undermined by an ill-fitting score and a puzzlingly structured third act, but there’s real pleasure in Hardy’s bold, intense, and utterly compelling lead performance.

 

Good Kill

Date:
Distributor: Roadshow
Format: Blu-ray, DVD