Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE TAKE (2016) and ANTIBIRTH (2016)

(France/US/UK - 2016)

A relentlessly fast-paced actioner that should please fans of the BOURNE series and the post-TAKEN Eurothriller, THE TAKE was originally titled BASTILLE DAY in France, where its release was delayed once by a November 2015 terrorist attack. It then opened in French cinemas on July 13, 2016 but was pulled three days later out of respect for the victims of the next day's Bastille Day bombing in Nice. Universal genre offshoot High Top Releasing acquired it for the US and retitled it THE TAKE, but didn't give it much of a rollout, topping out at 100 screens in November 2016. It should find an audience on Blu-ray and eventual streaming services, as it's as commercial a thriller as can be, directed in a very welcome coherent fashion by James Watkins, whose credits include the horror films EDEN LAKE (2008) and THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) as well as the recent BLACK MIRROR episode "Shut Up and Dance," and he scripted the forgettable sequel THE DESCENT PART 2 (2009). THE TAKE is anchored by a steely, badass Idris Elba as Sean Briar, a lone-wolf, plays-by-his-own-rules CIA agent based in Paris, where he's the loose cannon on a counter-terrorism team investigating a recent bombing that killed four people. The bomb, stuffed into a teddy bear inside a shopping bag, was supposed to be planted at the Nationalist Party headquarters by Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), a willing accomplice of Jean (Arieh Worthalter), who promised her no one would be in the building. Zoe aborted the mission when she saw members of the janitorial staff on the premises, and before she had a chance to throw the bag into the river, it's swiped by Michael Mason (Richard Madden, best known as Robb Stark on GAME OF THRONES), an American con man and master pickpocket who's been hard at work in Paris fencing wallets, watches, and phones for shady pawnbroker Baba (FEMME FATALE's Eriq Ebouaney). Seeing nothing of value, Mason tosses the bag with some trash outside an apartment building and it blows up seconds later. Security camera footage and surveillance photos pinpoint him as the bomber, which sends Briar, Interpol, and French intelligence in hot pursuit. A cat and mouse game ensues, with Briar and Mason eventually joining forces...if they don't kill each other first!...along with the duped Zoe when it becomes apparent that the bombing was instigated by a group of rogue Paris cops with the intent of blaming the attack on a nearby mosque, creating a protest and a riot as a distraction for a Bastille Day heist of the French National Reserve Bank.

THE TAKE doesn't deviate very far from the formulaic as these things go, but Watkins does a very solid job of handling the double and triple crosses and the crackerjack action and chase sequences. It's not too difficult to figure out the real bad guy who's orchestrating all the mayhem and you'll be able to spot which character may as well be wearing a sign reading "Dead Meat" the moment they go to inform that person of the information they've discovered. But formula works when everyone's on point, and THE TAKE, despite its original French release being affected by horrific, real-life tragedies on two occasions, is terrific entertainment when taken its own escapist terms. And, at 92 minutes, it's smart enough to not overstay its welcome. A lot of its success is due to an absolutely riveting Elba, an actor whose name is constantly mentioned as a potential James Bond, and THE TAKE proves he'd be up to the task. Despite the lack of support from High Top, who opted to spend more money marketing the flop horror film INCARNATE instead, THE TAKE would've easily been a modest, mid-level hit in US multiplexes. (R, 92 mins)

(US/Canada - 2016)

If you can picture BREAKING BAD reimagined as a David Cronenberg-inspired body horror film by GUMMO-era Harmony Korine, then you sort-of have an idea of what to expect with the aggressively unpleasant and off-putting-by-design ANTIBIRTH, but even that description doesn't cover everything. Writer/director Danny Perez has a lot of ideas and inspiration, but he's unable to streamline them into a coherent, consistent vision. As a result, ANTIBIRTH is all over the place, with plot tangents dealing in urban and rural blight, substance abuse, human trafficking, a kidnapped child, secret military experiments, alien beings, and space colonization, culminating in a spirited gross-out finale that's part XTRO and part SOCIETY. In a desolate and depressing small town that's home to a small military base in nowhere Michigan, hard-partying Lou (Natasha Lyonne) blacks out and starts showing signs of pregnancy, even though she swears to her best friend Sadie (Chloe Sevigny) that she hasn't had sex in months. As her belly swells from the accelerated pregnancy, she doesn't give up her ways, still partying, drinking and drugging to excess, living off her dad's military pension and picking up shifts cleaning rooms at a shitty local motel when she needs spending money. Meanwhile, sinister dealer Gabriel (Mark Webber) has obtained an experimental drug and had his flunky Warren (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) give it to Lou without her knowledge, the end result being the accelerated pregnancy. The drug was given to Gabriel by Isaac (Neville Edwards), a shadowy black-ops figure who occasionally pops into view. As Lou refuses to take her predicament seriously, she makes the acquaintance of the seemingly spacy Lorna (Meg Tilly, in her first theatrical feature since 1994's SLEEP WITH ME), a retired Army vet who babbles incessantly but starts to make sense when she talks of experimental drugs being used on unwitting women, space exploration, and contact with alien life forms.

Well, "makes sense" is a relative term as far as Perez's script goes. There's at least six potential movies that could've been made of any one of ANTIBIRTH's wildly disparate plot lines, but Perez opts to mash them all together and let the goopy body parts splat where they may. For much of its first hour, it seems like Perez is trying to go for some kind of metaphor about urban decay and the epidemic of rampant drug abuse in economically depressed areas. A lot of the scenes between offscreen friends Lyonne and Sevigny have an aimless, improvisational feel that recalls Korine or Gus Van Sant in one of his periodic experimental projects like ELEPHANT or LAST DAYS. It's not a very smooth shift when the horror starts, whether it's the oozing, grossout mess of Lou slicing open a huge blister on her foot or being shocked by an electric jolt from a TV in an effect that would've looked dated in an '80s Empire production like TERRORVISION. It's obvious Perez came up with the climax first and struggled to construct a movie to attach to it, and there's so many dangling plot threads that he completely loses track of Sadie and her kid, who we never heard about until he's referenced in a throwaway line by Gabriel ("You want your kid back, don't you? Is he even gonna recognize you?") and then never mentioned again. Sadie just vanishes from the movie, and Lorna unceremoniously exits offscreen. Lyonne gives it her all in a fearless performance, and it's nice to see Tilly again, and while she's done some sporadic TV work in recent years after taking the latter half of the '90s and the entire '00s off (she resurfaced in 2010 on two episodes of CAPRICA, and on the two-season Canadian TV series BOMB GIRLS), it's hard to see what it was about ANTIBIRTH that prompted her to end a 22-year big-screen sabbatical. (Unrated, 94 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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