This week’s minor VOD releases feature slow-burn creepiness in the New Zealand wilderness and at a fancy California estate, plus James Caan’s final role and the sixth installment in an inexplicably long-running franchise.
Vengeance: Rise of the Footsoldier (VOD and select theaters December 1): Somehow, the 2007 British true-crime thriller Rise of the Footsoldier has expanded into a six-film franchise, with the most recent four films set up as prequels because they focus on a supporting character who died in the original. The movies have long since run out of true stories to tell, and this latest installment is yet another fictional adventure for Essex-based enforcer Pat Tate (Craig Fairbrass). It’s hard to imagine anyone but devoted Footsoldier fans getting much out of Vengeance, which features Pat seeking revenge for the murder of one of his loyal associates. There’s plenty of the series’ signature brutal violence, although Pat himself has been toned down in order to function as a nominal hero. The tedious plot drags on for nearly two hours, as a series of similarly one-dimensional blokes stand in the way of Pat’s fury. After so many repetitive, bloody confrontations, all Pat ends up with is tiresome set-up for the next sequel. Grade: C
Loop Track (VOD December 1): Best known in his native New Zealand as a comedy writer and performer, Thomas Sainsbury takes a darker turn in his latest film as writer, director, and star. He plays Ian, a man suffering from unspecified trauma, who decides to take a solo hike into the wilderness, despite his apparent mental instability and general unfitness for strenuous activity. Instead of solitude, though, he finds fellow hikers who won’t leave him alone, including the obnoxiously gregarious Nicky (Hayden J. Weal) and honeymooning couple Austin (Tawanda Manyimo) and Monica (Kate Simmonds). The nervous, off-putting Ian keeps insisting that they’re being followed, but his companions dismiss his warnings as delusional paranoia. The audience is likely to come to the same conclusion, but Sainsbury keeps the tension high, with enough brief glimpses and strange coincidences to indicate that something isn’t quite right. The final act provides a definitive answer that is both appealingly gruesome and slightly underdeveloped, but its audacity mostly makes up for its narrative shortcomings. Grade: B
Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (VOD December 5): It must be daunting to make a documentary about one of the most famous documentarians of all time, and director Thomas von Steinaecker never attempts to match the creativity or artistic ambition of his subject. Instead, Radical Dreamer is a simple, straightforward tribute to legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, featuring celebrity testimonials from the likes of Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, and Christian Bale, recollections about Herzog’s upbringing, and a number of well-worn outlandish anecdotes about his life and career. There’s no way for von Steinaecker to encompass Herzog’s entire filmography in 90 minutes, so he hits the highlights, rehashing territory that has been more effectively explored in Les Blank’s excellent 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams and in Herzog’s own films. It’s never less than fascinating to listen to Herzog speak, and Radical Dreamer provides solid supplementary material for Herzog admirers. Mostly, though, it serves as a reminder that you could better spend your time watching an actual Herzog movie. Grade: B
The Portrait (VOD December 8): If there’s a giant painting covered by a foreboding white sheet in the attic of the sprawling, empty estate that you’ve just moved into with your invalid husband, you might be a horror-movie protagonist. Sofia (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) can’t stop staring at the imposing portrait she finds in a dusty corner of her husband’s childhood home, where they’ve returned so that Alex (Ryan Kwanten) can have a familiar place for his recovery from a traumatic brain injury. She’s intrigued and repulsed by the supposed portrait of Alex’s ancestor that looks uncannily like Alex himself. The plot is thin, but director Simon Ross knows how to conjure up atmospheric dread, and Cordova-Buckley makes Sofia more sympathetic than frustrating. Virginia Madsen steals the movie in her brief appearances as Alex’s eccentric cousin, who makes ominous pronouncements about the family history before sauntering off to the guest house. More of her, and less of Sofia’s angst, would have livened up this competent but forgettable horror story. Grade: B-
Fast Charlie (VOD and select theaters December 8): The late James Caan, in his final role, is far from the only Hollywood veteran suffering through B-movie embarrassment in this desultory action comedy. Caan shows up in a handful of scenes as a dementia-afflicted mob boss, but the main star is Pierce Brosnan, bringing a fraction of his James Bond charm to the role of underworld fixer Charlie Swift. Charlie finds himself caught in the middle of a hostile takeover by a rival crime lord (Gbenga Akinnagbe), who’s looking to tie up loose ends after offing all of Charlie’s associates. The twists and double-crosses are perfunctory and unexciting, and there’s no heat in the central romance between Charlie and taxidermist Marcie (Morena Baccarin), even setting aside the actors’ 26-year age difference. Director Phillip Noyce is a long way from his days helming Jack Ryan blockbusters, and Richard Wenk’s screenplay (based on Victor Gischler’s novel Gun Monkeys) feels like reheated Elmore Leonard leftovers. Grade: C