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Monday, 4 September 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Una, Little Evil, and Eat Locals: Your Week In Film (September 4-10)

Groot force: The Guardians are back but this time something's missing

The highs and lows of this week's UK home entertainment releases, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. All films are available to buy, rent or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Please note: The review of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 contains a couple of plot spoilers.

The history of the modern horror-comedy is a chequered one. For every What We Do In The Shadows, there's a Lesbian Vampire Killers, for every The Cabin In The Woods, there's a Little Nicky. Clearly it's a tricky balancing act to get right, a fact only underlined with the release this week of two new additions to a sub-genre that perhaps truly last hit the heights in the early 1980s, with the likes of The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf In London.

Little Evil (Netflix) W sees Parks And Recreation's Adam Scott marrying Evangeline Lilly's single mum and becoming step-father to her six-year-old son, Lucas (Owen Atlas) who, after a series of mysterious and violent episodes, he comes to believe is the Antichrist. The idea to use the set-up of The Omen as a way into exploring the difficulties of being a step-parent, and how your kids' awful behaviour can seem positively demonic, is a solid one, but writer/director Eli Craig – who helmed 2010's superb Tucker And Dale vs Evil – fails to take it anywhere interesting.

In fact, I don't really understand who his film is aimed at. Despite the odd bit of bad language, Little Evil is far too vanilla and unsophisticated for the kind of movie fan who'd enjoy, say, Slither or Shaun Of The Dead, and altogether too vulgar for a family audience. The horror isn't horrific and decent jokes are thin on the ground. Scott does his usual amiable but confused everyman turn, while Inside Amy Schumer's Bridget Everett is a force of nature hamstrung by a grating, one-note character. And just when you think Craig's film has grown quite insipid enough, up pops yet another "power of love" ending to make the prospect of Armageddon actually seem quite appealing after all.

Evil dud: Adam Scott can't save a limp comedy-horror

Rather better is Eat Locals (VOD and cinemas) WW½, the directorial debut from Jason Flemyng, the British actor you'll recognise from Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, X-Men: First Class and a ton of other stuff on screens both big and small. There has been a deluge of vampire fiction in the last decade or more, so coming across something a little different to what's already out there is rare, but I'm glad to say Eat Locals provides just that.

Every 50 years, the UK's vamp population – all eight of them – meet up to discuss whatever it is vampires need to discuss – the price of blood? Fang-sharpening services? How disappointing that Netflix adaptation of Castlevania was? Gathering at an isolated farmhouse, the eight (including Torchwood's Eve Myles, Doctor Who alum Freema Agyeman, and Daredevil's Charlie Cox) briefly consider the initiation of a new member (wideboy Sebastian, played by Billy Cook), before coming under surprise attack from a Special Ops team keen to take one of them alive for mysterious purposes. A siege ensues as the vampires – suddenly recast as the good guys – try to formulate a plan of escape.

Perhaps the gag rate isn't quite as high as it should be nor the horror hard-hitting enough, but what Eat Locals lacks in belly laughs and blood and guts, it just about makes up for with a certain rough and ready charm, some nice twists, and the sight of One Foot In The Grave's Annette Crosbie letting rip with a machinegun to the strains of The Damned's Smash It Up. Flemyng's vamps are very much in the horror movie tradition (they don't like sunlight nor show up in mirrors) but he – and screenwriter Danny King (Wild Bill) – still manage to keep things feeling fresh. It's a cross between Being Human (Toby Whithouse's UK version) and Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (2002), although it lacks the latter's palpable tension, gooey gore and relentless pace. Still, neither of those are bad company to be seen in, and I hope the end credits' hint at a sequel – Eat Global – happens sooner rather than later.

True blood: Eat Locals boasts a rough and ready charm

There's a lot to like about Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW½ but, after the note-perfect first film, James Gunn's sequel is nevertheless a disappointment. There are some lovingly crafted funny bits with Baby Groot and Rocket, the occasional slice of beautifully realised CG, and powerful character moments between feuding sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), while Michael Rooker steals the entire movie as loveable anti-hero Yondu. It's elsewhere – particularly in an interminable and effects-heavy final act – that things go awry.

On the run from an alien race called the Sovereign, our team of super-powered space heroes encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), a god-like being who, it turns out, isn't just the father of Peter Quill, aka group leader Star Lord (Chris Pratt), but also an unhinged megalomaniac and "living planet", with plans to reshape the entire universe in his image. He wants Quill – who has inherited some of his old man's powers – to help him with his plan of conquest and won't take no for an answer. There's a big fight.

The main problem is that a lot of the stuff that was so good about 2014's first film isn't carried off nearly as well this time. The gags certainly aren't as strong, with some of the exchanges (particularly those involving Dave Bautista's boorish, honking Drax) feeling a bit forced. Apart from a couple of choice cuts, the soundtrack's a damp squib too (the inclusion of Looking Glass's wretched Brandy (You're A Fine Girl) is a joke, right?), while the "friends as family" stuff, subtly handled in the original movie, is slathered on here to the point where I thought I might in fact be watching a weird new addition to the Fast & Furious franchise. Worst of all, though, is a finale that doesn't know when to quit. Civilisations rise and civilisations fall but on and on it goes, before finally reaching a CG-soaked crescendo, complete with a suitably shocking character death. To be honest, these epic pay-offs have all got a bit samey and Guardians isn't the first movie this year to be spoiled by one (I'm looking at you, Wonder Woman), nor probably the last. 


Rocket science: Star Lord and the gang battle Ego, The Living Planet

When it comes to disturbing, gut-wrenching drama, vampires, the Antichrist and an evil living planet have nothing on the haunting human conflict that unfolds in Una (VOD and cinemas) WWW½. Adapted from David Harrower's 2005 play, Blackbird, this impressive Brit flick stars Rooney Mara as the titular character, an office worker in her late twenties, who turns up, out of the blue, at the workplace of Ben Mendelsohn's Ray. She's there to confront the much older man about the fact he had groomed, raped and seemingly abandoned her when she was just 13 years old. Ray had planned to flee with the girl to Europe but was arrested and imprisoned for four years before they could cross the Channel. Una – a pent-up ball of confusion, self-loathing and fury – is seeking closure on the thing that has, up to now, utterly defined her life. Ray – now calling himself Pete – has seemingly moved on, with a good job, a big house, and a glamorous, successful wife his own age. 

Mostly a two-hander, Mara convinces and mesmerises as the rather lost young woman who's teenage years were ripped from her, while Mendelsohn gives us a truly unsettling ordinary monster. Ray/Pete isn't just a paedophile, he's a practised liar, a man so steeped in falsehood, you're certain he actually believes his own bullshit, however outrageous. He's horribly good at it too and it's no surprise Una fell for his patter as a kid or that, post-prison, he's been able to cover his tracks, bounce back and succeed. Underneath the matey bonhomie and oh-so-reasonable excuses and mea culpas, he's a snake. This duality is perfectly nailed by Mendelsohn, in a performance up there with his very best. 

Rooney and Mendelsohn will get most of the credit for Una, and deservedly so, but director Benedict Andrews's contribution is equally crucial. Plays adapted for film are often a bit "stagey" and directors struggle to reinvent them for the big screen (if you've seen Denzel Washington's rather static Fences, you'll know what I mean). Andrews – making his directorial debut here, after a career in theatre and opera – has no such problems. The Australian cleverly utilises different areas of Ray's vast warehouse workplace, as well as flashbacks and other locations, to make it a very different proposition to the one-room claustrophobia of Blackbird

One odd thing about the film is the way I've seen its plot described in some reviews and even on its IMDB page. It should be pointed out that Ray and Una do not have a "sexual relationship" because, as a 13-year-old child, Una is incapable of making that choice. She is sexually abused by Ray – plain and simple. It's something Andrews' film makes abundantly, forensically clear and I'm puzzled why there seems to be some confusion about it.

Childhood's end: Rooney Mara mesmerises as Una

Finally, a quick word about this year's London Film Festival, which takes place in the capital between 4-15 October. Now in its 61st year, this time the LFF boasts an eye-straining 242 feature films over 12 days, including new work from Alexander Payne (Downsizing), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Claire Denis (Let The Sunshine In), as well as Andy Serkis's directorial debut (Breathe). You can find details of the full programme here. I shall be perched over my computer keyboard on Thursday morning hoping to bag tickets for as many movies as I can afford...

What I shall be watching this week: Sundance hit, Patti Cake$.

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