(Video on Demand, April 2015) For a film that disappeared without traces from North American theaters, Last Knights has pretty good production values, and is almost interesting enough to stand on its own as something more than another take on the “47 Ronin” legend. There’s a bit of a spark in the premise, which posits (I think) a future-medieval society that avoids historical precedent while allowing for an appealing multi-racial cast and new iconography. Unfortunately, they don’t do anything with that idea other than justify the pseudo-medieval setting (no ancient artifacts, no mixture of technologies and customs, no bearings on the plot). There are a few twists and turns in the first act, at least until the 47 Ronin parallels become obvious. After that, it’s an assault-the-fortress caper film with a too-long coda. Clive Owen is instantly credible as the protagonist, while Morgan Freeman has a decent turn as his commander. Less happily, the film struggles to become more than just another generic fantasy vehicle: the action is shot blandly and with far too many quick cuts, whereas the color palette of the cinematography is often limited to the point of dullness. There isn’t much here to excite or astonish, and so while Last Knights avoid the worst pitfalls of what could have been a Direct-to-Video effort, there isn’t much here to make it memorable.
(On-demand video, October 2012) If you’re wondering why this Clive Owen film was never widely distributed in North America, keep in mind a few things: First, Intruders is a modestly-budgeted European production. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it’s an unremarkable horror movie with a confusing threat, a deceptive structure and muted chills. There isn’t much to say about the average thrills of seeing children and their parents cope with bogeymen, especially with the by-the-numbers scare sequences. There’s one neat twist in this film, but it pushes credibility at the same time it manages to explain a few troublesome plot points. Indulgent viewers will feel that the film has something to say about the power of storytelling and how our minds create reality; others will just complain that the monster has no clearly-identified limits and that it seems made up as it goes along. Fortunately, Clive Owen himself is better than the average material he’s being served, while Carice van Houten has a welcome supporting role as his wife, and Ella Purnell has a strong enough performance as a tormented girl to suggest bigger roles later in her career. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo knows how to create atmosphere and doesn’t embarrass himself with the limits of his budget (although some of the skyscraper scenes look a bit off from a special-effects point of view.) Intruders ends up living in the netherworld of the unremarkable horror film: good enough to avoid disappointment (or cult-classic awfulness), but not really good enough to stick in mind aside from that troublesome plot twist.
(On Cable TV, sometime around May 2012) It’s surprising to see how quickly a film can affirm its dull unspectacular barely-exciting nature. So it is that Killer Elite takes us back to 1970s England in order to present a semi-thrilling story something supposedly based on true events. But never mind that last part; the only thing inspired by true event seems to be the serious rainy atmosphere in which the entire film is bathed. While Robert De Niro, Jason Statham and Clive Owen are a spectacular union of tough-guy heroes, Killer Elite doesn’t seem interested in most of them: De Niro is barely on-screen for fifteen minutes, Owen is hampered in a bad-guy role while Statham plays nothing more (or less) than his usual screen persona. Still, the script doesn’t give any of them much to do. The directing is competent but unspectacular, and that goes for Killer Elite in general. The script gets needlessly complicated by the end, and it’s really the actors who carry the film to the finish line. I had to go back and review my year-end notes in order to realize that I hadn’t actually reviewed Killer Elite upon initially viewing it, and I’ll let that speak for itself.