Sunday, 27 September 2015


Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish
Writer: Sean Bailey
Director: Afonso Poyart

Baffled by a series of murders, veteran FBI Special Agent Joe Merriwether (Morgan) calls upon the services of friend and former colleague Dr John Clancy (Hopkins). Clancy's a psychic who's helped out the Bureau before and Merriwether hopes that the Doc's visions will be able to point them in the direction of the killer. This does not go down well with Merriwether's sceptical young partner Katherine Cowles (Cornish), who believes in honest-to-goodness sleuthing and psychological profiling. The twist here? It appears as though the killer's a psychic too and their powers far outweigh Clancy's...

Oh, where to begin with this piece of plodding, preposterous piffle? Apparently it started life as a sequel of sorts to Seven but even the shoddiest, never-to-be-seen offcuts from David Fincher's movie would be infinitely more watchable than the hundred and one minutes of total and unadulterated cobblers served up here. The premise could have been just about wacky enough to fly had it been made with zip and panache but what you end up getting is a glum, energy-sapping trudge from point A to point Z in the serial killer movie landscape.

For me, the major problem is the screenplay. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's absolutely dreadful. Every plot development, every line seems to have been generated by a computer into which the script of every serial killer flick - and possibly every cop thriller - has been fed. Hopkins' character doesn't want to be dragged back into investigating another serial killer case? Check. Something happens that makes Hopkins's character change his mind? Check. Main character(s) threatened by the bad guy? Check. Highly intelligent murderer with his own supply of literary quotes? Check. "Name" actor as the serial killer? Check. Confrontation between hero and killer where killer explains his motives? Check. Audience members walking out after about forty minutes? Check.

I wasn't one of those audience members who threw in the towel before Solace had even hit the halfway mark. More fool me, I stuck another hour of the bloody thing and it didn't improve one little bit. Yes, it does set up some potentially interesting moral dilemmas concerning exactly why the murderer is going about their gruesome business but again these ideas are torpedoed by the terrible, clunky dialogue which convinces not one iota and does nothing to draw in the audience.

Which brings me to the main trio of performances. Hopkins, Morgan and Cornish are pretty much on a hiding to nothing considering the ludicrous things this movie makes them say on a regular basis but Morgan manages to come out of it the least unscathed, giving his standard FBI agent/family man an innate likability. Cornish does what she can, having to play a second-tier Clarice Starling-alike who is inevitably put in danger come the excruciatingly dull climax. While we're mentioning Silence of the Lambs, a bit of Lecter does seem to show in Hopkins' performance. Merriwether mentions - more than once - what a great smile Clancy has but when Clancy demonstrates said smile it's more akin to how Hannibal looked before he bit the face off Sergeant Pembry.

And it's not just the aforementioned thesping threesome who are sold short by the writing - there's a lot of acting talent going to waste here, most notably Xander Berkeley, Sharon Lawrence, Marley Shelton and Janine Turner who are given the sum total of zero to work with. Turner's role, in particular, is almost a walk-on. This is Janine Turner's role as described by my thoughts from the moment she appeared on screen: "Is that Janine Turner?" "It is Janine Turner. Great!" "So what's she going to do?" "Oh, nothing." Don't even get me started on the nigh-on criminal squandering of Xander Berkeley's considerable talents. Let's move on.

As I previously mentioned, there is a "name" actor playing the serial killer, much like Kevin Spacey in Seven. As he's featured on the posters here I don't feel that I'm giving too much away by saying it's Colin Farrell. I think he's a decent actor but he doesn't get to prove that here. Solace suggests that the killer is taking the lives of certain people out of some sense of moral duty but Farrell is saddled with a character that is prone to droning on about his responsibility and could probably bore most of his victims to death without having to resort to any kind of sharp implement. Mr Farrell, you deserve better than this.

This listless non-thriller even manages to throw in a car chase which is guaranteed to set your pulse to exactly the same rate it was before it began. It also features Hopkins predicting where a fleeing perp will drive so there's a bit of exciting "LEFT!", "RIGHT!", "STOP!" action and a tetchy Cornish asking why they're not going in the same direction as the vehicle they're chasing. Well, duh, you're being taken on a psychic shortcut, aren't you? If you think that sounds like a load of nonsense, I probably should have talked to you before I decided to watch this.

For all its lofty ambitions, Solace winds up as being both unrelentingly silly and remarkably dull, wasting a cast most films would kill for and, perhaps more unforgivably, wasting the time of its audience. Easily one of the worst of this year.

Saturday, 26 September 2015


Starring: Victoria Smurfit, Jonathan Slinger, Joanne Mitchell
Writer: Paul Roundell 
Director: Dominic Brunt

Best friends Bex (Smurfit) and Dawn (Mitchell) decide to follow their dreams of opening their own classy cafe as a means of escaping the somewhat less-than-glamorous surroundings of the indoor market in which they're currently stuck serving not much in the way of coffee and cake (and in Bex's case, fending off the sleazy advances of nearby stallholder Nev). Trouble is, none of the local banks are willing to finance their venture and things look bleak until they happen upon Jeremy (Slinger) who offers to lend them half of the money to start their business. Although Jeremy initially appears like a good guy to them it's not long before his true nature is revealed - he's a loan shark who won't take "no" for an answer and his initial initimidation of Bex and Dawn escalates into something even more disturbing.

Dominic Brunt's uncompromising horror/thriller gets straight down to business, interspersing some welcome early character development with the alarming and brutal consequences of being unable to square debts to unscrupulous people on time. It's not too long before Bex and Dawn are drawn into this underworld and from here the tension really ratchets up as Jeremy's threats turn to violence and there seems to be no way out. As the shocks are piled on the proceedings become almost unbearably taut and we fear for the lives of the two women to whom we've become attached. It's a while since I've felt quite so unnerved watching a film and it's testament to Brunt's skill as a director.

The three central performances here are all terrific. Smurfit and Mitchell are never less than completely believable as friends who've been through a lot together even before they're plunged into the nightmare of owing money that can never be fully paid back to a man who will use any means at his disposal to recoup it. Smurfit's character is funny and feisty, Mitchell's is caring and careful. Roundell's screenplay gives them both real depth and they'd be an interesting duo in any setting. In addition to this, despite the hands fate may have dealt them it's clear that neither woman is a victim for the taking and they both draw on their own personal strengths as they attempt to deal with the Bank of Psycho

As the loan shark, hats off to Slinger for making my skin crawl for almost every second of his time on screen and giving his villain a terrifying plausibility. He isn't some hulking, indestructible maniac. Instead, he's calm, calculating and chilling, a million miles from the generic pantomime bad guy seen in so many genre efforts. Jeremy is a truly despicable, vicious man and anyone who watches this and says they're not waiting for him to get his comeuppance is surely lying.

The violence here is certainly not for the squeamish but my guess is that most of Bait's viewers will be prepared for that from the get-go (and if not, and you're offended by it, why didn't you read the back of the DVD box? Or, indeed, this review?). That said, the film isn't awash with gore, preferring to carefully ration its use of claret in several effective sequences - you'll probably be wincing quite often watching this one - until things eventually come to a head in a spectacularly bloody climax where scores are most definitely settled.

In short, Bait packs in more palm-moistening tension than any big-budget Hollywood movie (hell, any two or three big-budget Hollywood movies) could muster and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Who would have thought that an indie film made for next to nowt would turn out to be one of the most satisfying thrillers in yonks? Well, me, for one.

Also, I should give a mention to Dominic Brunt's previous movie, the rather good relationship drama/zombie infection flick (yes, you read that correctly) Before Dawn which puts a fresh spin on the usual undead genre tropes and is well worth checking out.

Also, also: Hang around until after the closing credits have finished for a bit of Bait-related claymation action from the brilliant Lee Hardcastle.

Also, also, also: I could listen to Victoria Smurfit saying the word "shite" all day. Not much to do with the review, really. Just saying.

Thursday, 24 September 2015


Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Director: Brian Helgeland

Here's another version of the true-life story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray and how their organised crime business flourished in 1960s London. Obviously the Kemp brothers were unavailable to reprise their roles so this latest version has to settle for some guy called Tom Hardy playing both roles. Has he been in anything else recently? What, that Mad Max thing? Oh, right...

Of course, a lot of the buzz surrounding LA Confidential screenplay scribe Helgeland's take on an oft-told tale has centred on Tom Hardy as Reggie appearing alongside Tom Hardy as Ronnie and it has to be said that he is terrific in both roles to the point where it's easy to forget that it's the same guy. He plays Reggie as attractive, confident, driven and sure of pretty much everything he wants from life. His Ronnie, on the other hand, is awkward, withdrawn and with who knows what bubbling just under the surface - could be a joke, could be an encouraging comment, could be a non-sequitur, could be a burst of nauseating violence. He intimidates just by being in the room.

Hardy is mesmerising in his portrayal of both brothers and he is clearly Legend's ace card - well, two ace cards. Awards potential? I'd say so. Which is not to say that the rest of the cast is exactly shabby either. In fact, it's bursting with quality, whether it's Eccleston as dogged copper Nipper Read, David Thewlis as the Krays' savvy business associate (and catalyst for their empire's eventual downfall) Leslie Payne or Sam Spruell as the rather creepy Jack "The Hat" McVitie. Tara Fitzgerald also manages to make an impact in a smaller role as Frances' mum and a flashpoint involving her character and Ronnie is both scary and darkly amusing.

As the female lead, Emily Browning shines as Frances: an intelligent girl who would have been destined for bigger and better things had she not been fatally hamstrung by her psychological fragility. Although the movie makes it clear why people would have found Reggie Kray a charming man it's Browning's character who elicits most of our sympathy. We may not agree with the some of choices she made but we can understand why she made them and Browning makes us feel genuine concern for Frances. She's a normal girl who just wants to be happy but can she possibly find that happiness with Reggie?

With such impeccable work from the cast, it's something of a disappointment that the movie itself doesn't quite match their level of skill. The main issue with trying to cram the entire reign of the Krays into just over two hours whilst also attempting to explore the relationship between Reggie and Frances inevitably means that the plot tends to dash between major events dotted across a period of several years and it doesn't fully exploit the potential of certain threads - for instance, a subplot involving the excellent Chazz Palminteri's Mafia guy from Chicago seems a bit of an afterthought and doesn't particularly go anywhere.

Elsewhere, the gangland warfare between the Krays and "south of the River" boss Charlie Richardson (the always reliable Paul Bettany) is dealt with fairly swiftly so anyone expecting long stretches of gory gangster violence may feel a tad let down. Personally I preferred the approach Legend takes here, especially as this portion of the movie concludes with a fine joke involving England's disputed third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final.

Quibbles aside (and there are many of them, it has to be said), there's still enough here to hold your average audience member's interest for the running time and the movie takes an admirably unglamourous approach to the violence portrayed within. The fact that the fights, stabbings and shootings are generally so matter-of-fact makes it all the more sickening and there's one particular moment where the 18 certificate is duly warranted.To be fair, the movie had already earned that with its frequent and aggressive use of the c-word so the more sensitive souls amongst us might want to give this flick a wide berth. For the rest of us, this is a stylish, adult drama which doesn't really give us any fresh insights into what made the Krays tick but delivers the (ill-gotten) goods and a slew of impressive performances.