By Robin E. Simmons
TWO FACES OF JANUARY
Writer Hossein Amini (DRIVE) makes his directing debut with this slick, atmospheric, romantic thriller set in the sun drenched Mediterranean locales of Athens, Crete and Istanbul circa 1962. Patricia Highsmith’s novel of intrigue is the source material that begins at the Parthenon where a rich American tourist couple Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Collete (Kirsten Dunst) randomly meet Rydell (Oscar Isaac), an American tour guide and scammer. The three hook up but an unexpected murder in the couple’s hotel changes everything and forces the threesome to go on the run and the tenuous bond they share is riddled with distrust and lust. Even though the complex characters are all flawed, I cared about all of them and was truly surprised at the Hitchcockian twists. The striking visuals in timeless, exotic locations are a nice counterpoint in the simmering tension. Pick of the week. Now playing at Cinemas Palme d’Or.
In an obvious attempt to reboot a dormant franchise, the near canonization of Vlad the Impaler is a disappointing origin story about one of Universal Studios’ classic monsters, a monster that helped save a strapped studio (or so the story goes).
Luke Evans (IMMORTALS, THE RAVEN) is the misunderstood blood-sucking fiend who we discover is deserving of sainthood in this retelling that tosses all the iconic, seductive, blood lust with which we are familiar and instead glorifies a heroic figure. What?! Gary Shore directs this action epic with a knowing hand, taking advantage of the superior production design that at times seems a tad too rich for this film that tries to humanize the beloved monster. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not scary, not sexy and not necessary. I was fascinated by Sarah Gadon’s portrayal of Vlad’s wife. Random thought: Telling the story of Dracula through his wife’s eyes is a movie that deserves telling. Now playing.
It’s April 1945, the final days of World War II. The Allies are making their final assault in Germany. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a tough-as-nails war weary army sergeant commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission. Behind enemy lines, outrageously outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier suddenly part of their platoon, Wardaddy and his men heroically battle overwhelming odds as they blast their way into the heart of Nazi Germany. Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman and Michael Pena costar. David Ayer writes and directs. Clearly, he has a sure hand on the dramatic story that’s explodes on screen. Gritty action abounds. And it’s still a thrill watching those awesome tanks do their dirty business. Nice poster. Now playing.
NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE HOME THEATER:
PENNY DREADFUL Season One
From three-time Oscar© nominated writer John Logan (SKYFALL, GLADIATOR) and Oscar winner Sam Mendes, comes this frightening psychosexual drama that reinvents origin stories of literature’s iconic creatures like Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein and Dracula and intertwines them with original characters. The dark and brutal quest that drives this great-looking series is the attempt to save a human soul while grappling with depraved, monstrous tendencies and temptations. Inspired casting features a terrific Eva Green, Timothy Dalton (remember him as James Bond?) and Josh Hartnett. The three-disc Season One includes 10 episodes and watchable, relevant extras. From Showtime/CBS/Paramount. Blu-ray.
WHITEY: USA V. JAMES J. BULGER
Documentarian Joe Berlinger’s sweeping and revelatory film follows the trial of infamous gutter scum Bulger using courtroom action as a springboard to examine accusations of multifaceted corruption within our law enforcement (read FBI) and legal system. After fleeing Boston, he hid out in sunny Santa Monica with his girlfriend. After almost 16 years, the murderous thug was finally snagged. He had a huge stash of weapons and cash hidden in the walls of his apartment. Bulger was a “protected” FBI informant who delighted in hands-on killing, including women. This film barely touches on the true evil of this arrogant, sub-human creature, but it’s a nice intro. Magnolia. Blu-ray.