By G. Michael Dobbs
A new British crime film and an exploitation film that failed to satisfy are featured in this week's DVD review column.
Generally, I like the recent spate of British crime films such as the Guy Ritchie movies and "Layer Cake," to name several and I had high hopes for "London Boulevard."
The film marks the directorial debut of William Monahan, the writer of "The Departed," and is based on a well-received crime novel.
Colin Farrell plays Mitchel, a man who has just been released from prison after a three-year term. We're not sure what he did to get into prison except it was violent, but we do know that he doesn't ever want to go back. Despite a reunion party for being a stand-up guy, Mitchel simply wants to live his own life outside of organized crime.
That isn't going to be easy as Gant (played with intensity by Ray Winstone), a local crime boss, sees potential in Mitchel and wants him to lead a loan shark operation.
As Mitchel tries to keep Gant at bay, he struggles to deal with his sister, a multi-level addict, and a new job he has fallen into: helping Charlotte, a reclusive movie star (played by Keira Knightley) with odd jobs and keeping the paparazzi away.
The conflict with Gant and a growing love affair with the actress come to their respective heads and Mitchel puts forth a violent plan to rid himself of the crime boss permanently to start his new life.
As a director, Monahan gets a lot of things right, but there are details that color the story that are obscured, such as Gant's sexual identity and if Mitchel was raped in prison. Part of the reason American audiences may not fully understand such plot points is due to the English accents and colloquialisms. I had a hard time following the dialogue in some scenes.
The irony about Knightley's character is that Charlotte complains she has been receiving movie roles in which she is there simply to tell more of the hero's story and that is exactly what happens in this film. There is not much of an opportunity for Knightley to develop her character and instead Charlotte comes off as self-indulgent and wacky, instead of sympathetic.
Farrell carries the film, though. At his core, his character is an essentially decent man who wants to take care of his sister and protect Charlotte and Farrell reveals his character's intentions in an effective, low-keyed manner.
So despite the flaws, I was enjoying the film until the end, which was very unsatisfying. There is a difference between a movie with film noir aspirations and a clunky bummer, but Monahan apparently doesn't understand the difference.
"London Boulevard" is an interesting film, but not a successfully told story.
OK, the trailer looked pretty damn intriguing and I was in the mood for a solid horror film. Alas, the budget limitations kept this New Zealand horror film from being a satisfying guilty pleasure.
The premise, in true exploitation film tradition, is a riff off a successful film property in this case, "Hellboy." In the "Hellboy" films, Ron Perlman plays a demon who had been summoned by the Nazis during World War II but was rescued by the Allies and fights evil.
In this film though, two New Zealand commandos accidentally discover that Nazis have conjured up a demon they intend to use as weapon against the Allied invasion. The only problem is that our two heroes find it's not going so well for the Nazis.
The demon, who appears as the woman a person loves, has killed and eaten the unit with the exception of its commander.
The film takes place primarily on two sets and quickly becomes a three-character enterprise: a commando, the Nazi and the demon. Although there are some good performances, the movie's thin budget shows through by a lack of action and special effects.
It is also another film that ends in a way that is scarcely satisfying.
With a larger budget, the film might have gone places far more interesting. Director Paul Campion, who also co-wrote the script, shows some ingenuity in his staging of the film, but the cheap claustrophobic nature of the production ultimately defeated him.
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