Monday 2 April 2018

The Bachelors, Blade Of The Immortal, and Ravenous (Your Week In Film: April 2-8)

The hunger games: On the run from zombie-like creatures in Ravenous

The best and worst of this week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

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

Kurt Voelker clearly isn't a big fan of psychotherapy. J.K. Simmons, who plays distraught widow Bill Palet in the writer/director's second feature The Bachelors (Curzon Home Cinema) WW, is given all manner of counselling, medication and, at one point, a course of ECT, to cure his chronic depression, but none of it works. In fact, the whole process (including Harold Perrineau's therapist) is treated as something a little bit sinister and not to be trusted.

As it turns out, all maths teacher Bill had needed to get the black dog off his back was for son Wes (Josh Wiggins) to shout at him and hurl a glass full of soda at a wall. Whilst no expert, I'm not entirely sure this is how mental illness – or the alleviation of its symptoms – actually works. Surely, it's just a more extreme version of telling a patient to "pull themselves together", albeit with added broken glass and stained paintwork.

Bad brain science apart, as melodramas about troubled rich people go, The Bachelors isn't bad. It sees the Palet boys move to Los Angeles after the untimely death of wife/mother Jeanie (Kimberly Crandall). An old friend has offered Bill a job at his exclusive boys' school and it's a chance for father and son to start again, with the help of two new women in their lives – Bill's teacher colleague Carine (Julie Delpy) and student Lacey (Odeya Rush), who Wes helps with her French homework. Of course, you're waiting for the two relationships to blossom into more than friendship and Voelker throws in a few deft twists and turns as his story winds its way to an inevitable and uplifting conclusion.

The main weapon in The Bachelors' armoury is a fine cast. You can't go wrong with Simmons and Delpy, but the kids are good too, especially Rush, who finds new dimensions to explore in amongst her character's "beautiful but disturbed" tropes. Lacey's family aren't in it very much but give the film its best scene all sat round a table during an excruciating dinner that Wes has been invited to. Lacey's mum and dad are going through a divorce and the pair's disdain for each other crackles off the screen as they take verbal pot-shots at each other. They're hilariously awful and should have been in this far more.

Bachelor boys: J.K. Simmons and Josh Wiggins play a grieving father and son

Legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike's 100th film (yes, really) is a flawed but entertaining adaptation of Hiroaki Samura's Blade Of The Immortal (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW, a long-running manga which ceased publication in 2012 after 19 years.

As the title implies, Blade tells the tale of a mighty samurai – Manji (Takuya Kimura) – cursed by a witch to walk the Earth forever. He takes pity on a young girl, Rin (Hana Sugisaki), and vows to be her instrument of vengeance against Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi) and his band of master swordsmen, who murdered her father.

The opening sequence – filmed in moody black and white as Manji "dies" before receiving his curse – is truly electrifying, but, due to its extended running time and repetitive action sequences, Blade sags somewhat in the middle. However much you love well-choreographed, ultra-violent sword fights, with high body counts and lopped-off limbs, there comes a point where you just think, "Any chance Manji could do something else for a bit – maybe a spot of shopping or some gardening?" Thankfully, Miike pulls it all together in time for an impressively over-the-top grand finale, featuring Manji, Rin, Anotsu, and a few of the colourful supporting characters we've met along the way. 

There will be blood: Miike's 100th movie is violent but repetitive

Netflix adds so much new content to its catalogue these days that it's easy for something rather good to slip through the cracks unnoticed. The fact that latest "something" is a zombie movie, called Ravenous (Netflix) WWW, is surprising because, let's face it, the undead horror sub-genre hasn't exactly been renowned of late for its gems, hidden or otherwise.

Robin Aubert's film doesn't particularly do anything outrageously original – a band of survivors in upstate Quebec are menaced by an army of undead – he just does it very well. The characters are all interesting (especially Monica Chokri's Tania), it's directed with style and imagination, and the creatures themselves have one or two intriguing quirks to mark them out from the usual limb-chewing throng. In fact, I don't know whether it's right to call them zombies at all, as the fast-moving monsters here are more redolent of those from 28 Days Later or The Girl With All The Gifts.

We all know what zombies look like – and it's got a bit boring – but Aubert is more interested in what they sound like. His creatures let out a terrible, soul-piercing shriek that reminded me of the inhuman sound emitted by the alien duplicates in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978). It's like nails down a chalkboard and genuinely unsettling, especially in a film set amidst the peace and stillness of Quebec's countryside.

The longer the movie goes on, the further it strays from the undead template, becoming stranger and more artful as the exploration of ideas takes over from straightforward storytelling. Aubert leaves us with a lot to ponder (some reviews have suggested rather too much), but figuring out the hows and whys of this particular apocalypse is half the fun. Ravenous leaves you with some powerful images – the creatures build weird piles of furniture and technology for some unfathomable reason – and that awful shriek in your head. Although it isn't quite in the same league, it reminded me a little of Julia Ducournau's extraordinary Raw from last year. Take that as a recommendation.

Cutting edge: Ravenous reinvents the zombie movie
Film of the week: Ravenous
What I will be watching this week: Journeyman

UK Top 10 DVDs/Blu-rays (movies only)
1. Justice League
2. Paddington 2
3. Wonder
4. Thor: Ragnarok
5. Murder On The Orient Express
6. Daddy's Home 2
7. Paddington 1 and 2 (boxset)
8. Moana
9. Beauty And The Beast (2017)
10. Cars 3

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