Friday, October 25, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: DISCONNECT (2013); BLOOD (2013); and HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013)

(US - 2013)

DISCONNECT falls squarely into that post-CRASH "everything is connected" ensemble subgenre but stands out for being notably less pompous and sanctimonious than most.  It certainly deserved better treatment than getting dumped on just 180 screens at its widest release.  Directed by Henry-Alex Rubin (best known for the documentary MURDERBALL), the film offers the standard selection of disparate characters whose lives converge in unexpected and tragic ways:  in the most compelling storyline, troublemaking teens Jason (UNDER THE DOME's Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) set up a fake Facebook profile for a "Jessica," striking up an online relationship with lonely, artistic outcast Ben (Jonah Bobo), eventually coercing him into sending a nude selfie, which they forward to everyone at school; Jason's widower father Mike (Frank Grillo) is a freelance cyber-security investigator who's hired by Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) and Cindy (Paula Patton), a married couple struggling with the death of their infant son, after their finances have been drained by an identity theft traced to Schumacher (Michael Nyqvist), a grief chatroom friend of Cindy's who recently lost his wife to cancer; Ben's father Rich (Jason Bateman) is a lawyer who becomes obsessed with finding who's responsible for harassing his son; and Rich briefly figures into the film's least interesting plotline, when he's hired by a TV station to represent Nina (Andrea Riseborough), an ambitious reporter who gets in over her head when she does a profile on an internet sex worker (Max Thieriot), who's inadvertently being used to lure minors into the profession.  All of the plot threads have an internet angle, and the idea that we're all too plugged in and--wait for it--disconnected is a notion that could've been hammered over our heads in the most unsubtle ways imaginable, but DISCONNECT does nice job of not screaming "MESSAGE!" and the performances, particularly Bateman's, are quite good.  It wraps up a little too neat and tidy by the end, and it's a bit beyond fashionably late as far as this type of film goes, which is probably why it wasn't given much of a chance, but DISCONNECT is better than a lot of its ilk.  (R, 116 mins)
(UK - 2013)
Veteran British TV producer/writer Bill Gallagher (LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD) scripted this remake of his 2004 BBC series CONVICTION, taking a six-part story and a new cast and streamlining it down to 90 minutes.  Not having seen CONVICTION, BLOOD works fine on its own except for one questionable plot gimmick.  It obviously jettisons tons of character development but retains the core tenets of CONVICTION:  two sibling detective partners, Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie Fairburn (Stephen Graham) are part of a team investigating the brutal stabbing death of a 15-year-old girl.  They immediately suspect local creep Jason Buleigh (Ben Crompton), who smirks his way through their questioning and all but admits his guilt but there isn't enough evidence to hold him.  After a few too many drinks at his wedding anniversary party, Joe sends his wife home and he and Chrissie pack their drunk, Alzheimer's-addled ex-cop dad Lenny (Brian Cox) into the car and pick up Jason.  While Lenny sleeps it off in the back seat, Joe makes Jason dig a hole on the shore while Chrissie watches.  Tempers flare and Joe hits Jason in the head with the shovel, killing him.  They bury the body and try to get on with their lives, hoping that everyone will think Jason just skipped town.  But then perceptive, loner detective Robert Seymoore (Mark Strong) uncovers evidence that implicates two teenage boys in the girl's death, and they confess, fully exonerating Jason.  Chrissie can't live with the guilt, while Joe does everything possible to keep their secret buried.  Meanwhile, with occasional flashes of reliable memory amidst his dementia, Lenny remembers bits and pieces of the incident, during which he was drifting in and out of sleep, and can't figure out why he has Jason's bus pass--with his picture on it--which Jason dropped in the back seat of Joe's car.  Noticing how strangely the brothers are acting, Seymoore slowly starts to put the whole story together.

Filmed in the gray, rainy areas of Wirral and Liverpool, BLOOD has a dreary, hopeless aura throughout.  Gallagher and director Nick Murphy (THE AWAKENING) generate much suspense out of the brothers' situation, with Bettany getting more crazed-looking and desperate with each new scene, to the point where his Joe frequently looks like a monster.  Graham, currently seen as Al Capone on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and sort-of the bulldoggish Bob Hoskins of his generation, is outstanding as Chrissie, so overcome with guilt that he can barely function and can't stop bursting into tears.  Bettany and Graham don't really look like brothers at all, but they're both good enough--Graham, in particular--that you can overlook it rather quickly.  BLOOD isn't necessarily a very creative film and you've seen its type many times before, but it's a well-acted and solidly-crafted suspense thriller that's weakened only by a needless plot device where Joe's guilt is represented by him imagining conversations with Jason.  It's apparently exclusive to the remake and was perhaps Gallagher's way of condensing material to build the Joe character, but it's the only element of BLOOD that comes off as hokey.  (Unrated, 92 mins)
(UK - 2013)

This Viking saga is appropriately brutal and bloody but isn't anywhere nearly as interesting as an average episode of similarly-styled cable TV series like GAME OF THRONES or VIKINGS.  In 871 A.D., the dying King Bagsecg (James Cosmo, THRONES' Jeor Mormont) finds his Viking kingdom threatened by the Saxons.  He sends his second son, the warrior Steinar (Charlie Bewley from the TWILIGHT series), in search of his banished eldest son Hakan (Elliot Cowan), so he can make his rightful claim to the throne and help rebuild the kingdom to its full glory.  Steinar, accompanied by his motley crew of sidekicks, including Hagan (Clive Standen, who co-stars in VIKINGS), makes his way through Saxon lands in search of his brother, facing various obstacles and recruiting other warriors along the way, such as the gregarious Ivar (Ivan Kaye, also on VIKINGS).  Eventually, Steinar is captured and brought to meet his estranged brother as the film becomes a Viking redux of APOCALYPSE NOW, with Hakan a now-insane despot, out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct.  All of this leads to a one-on-one, brotherly brawl with a bunch of biting and eye-gouging.  Busy and awesomely-named British TV director Farren Blackburn (THE FADES, LUTHER, DOCTOR WHO) stages some OK action scenes and there's plentiful gore if that's what you're after, but the pace is slack and none of Steinar's adventures are all that interesting. The contemporary score is intrusive and the script by Matthew Read (no stranger to Viking fare, as he co-wrote Nicolas Winding Refn's brilliant VALHALLA RISING) is awful, filled with anachronistic verbiage like "crap," "cuntfuck," and "Go fuck yourself."  The way the film ends makes it ultimately feel like a pilot for a TV series, and though I don't think it is, I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be the case.  At any rate, HAMMER OF THE GODS, which grossed a whopping $641 during its two-screen US theatrical run, is boring, uninspired, and out of ideas long before it starts ripping off Joseph Conrad and Francis Ford Coppola, and your plans for watching it should be terminated with extreme prejudice.  (R, 98 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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