The Week In Video… Part LVII

Monday, January 29 2018
The Week In Video… Part LVII

This column has been a bit quiet of late, but we’ve still been watching an awful lot of stuff, so here’s a a round up of current and forthcoming releases that have been sent our way recently, keeping a close eye on their trade potential… 

Skyline was, on its release way back when, a pivotal DTV title. Released by Momentum, with some real weight behind it in terms of marketing, it was a quality film that had bypassed theatrical. Relentlessly grim it may have been, but, the confident distributor figured, it deserved a wider audience. And it got one too, the title has sold a staggeringly impressive amount – more than half a million. Now a sequel, arrives and eschews some of the original film’s gloominess, preferring instead to throw in a hefty dose of martial arts action alongside the end-of-times alien invasion business. It’s a lot more fun than its predecessor, but the reputation of the first one among home entertainment consumers will, hopefully, give Beyond Skyline (Signature, out now) a longer shelf life than many of its contemporaries.

The Ritual (eOne, February 12) didn’t seem to get the attention it deserved on its theatrical release, never really winning over critics or audiences needed to let a film work in release. The savage nature of exhibition in the current climate means if you’re not putting the requisite bums on seats in he first few days, you’re hiked off with something more lucrative in your place. It’s a shame as it’s a cut above your average horror, sitting somewhere between one of Ben Wheatley’s folk horror outings and a more traditional horror outing. It’s further lifted by Rafe Spall as one of the quartet of pals who head to Scandinavia on a walking holiday as per the wishes of one of their friends who was brutally killed before he got to drag them on the trip for his stag do.  Part folk horror, part lads’ trip gone awry like The Stag TV series from a few years back, the tagline (“they should have gone to Vegas”) may not have helped, coming, with the poster arriving in cinemas just after the 2017 massacre (it was in place long before the awful events there), but that’s no longer a huge concern. It needs a helping hand, sure, but it has enough commercial ingredients to help it perform.

Sticking with eOne and Revolt (out January 29) is another alien invasion tale. Like Beyond Skyline, it is set away from the standard location (while the former starts out in the US, it soon heads to South East Asia, this takes place in Africa. While budget constraints and a need to sell to other markets may be the driving force behind these decisions, it’s good to at least see extra-terrestrials choosing somewhere other than America to invade. Above average fare, following the recent trend for this kind of film; eOne’s sleeve, which makes it feel as much like a video game such as Halo as a feature, is a smart idea too.

Back on terra firma, as we noted on our newsletter recently, Thunderbird Releasing, the company formerly known as Soda, is upping the ante when it comes to DTV fare and LA Vengeance (out now) is a perfect example of that. Starring Bruce Willis – and, as noted by a few insiders we’ve been chatting to – he appears throughout the film, rather than just the customary cameo he’s been more associated with in recent years as he’s edged towards the DTV and premium vod sector. What’s more, in one scene he’s even involved in a chase through Venice Beach while riding a skateboard naked. Part thriller, part comedy, it’s far better than some of the films he’s been in recently. Still an instantly recognisable name, his appearance on shelves is always welcome.

Another old face returns in American Assassin (Lionsgate, out now), as Michael Keaton takes on an action role in this exceedingly violent tale. Teen star Dylan O’Brien is the eponymous killer, turned from a hunk without a care into a ruthless revenge-seeking hitman after his fiancee is gunned down by Islamic terrorists. O’Brien brings a big fanbase with him, thanks to ongoing franchises both from TV (Teen Wolf) and feature film (Maze Runner). It plays well across different markets, the younger audience enticed by the hunk, older viewers familiar with Keaton’s long career, a very current theme and plenty of action. Its brief theatrical may not help too much, although it deserves a wider audience. Maze Runner fans may want to look away during one or two of the more outre torture moments.

Also from Lionsgate, and fresh off a strong theatrical release across the Irish Sea, is Maze (out now). Back in the VHS rental heavy era, this would have struggled (rental dealers hated anything that featured Irish Republicans and the Troubles at its core, and this is rooted in them. It follows a massive prison break at the notorious Maze prison by assorted IRA types. It’s a strong thriller, recalling the excellent 71 and deserves to follow in its footsteps.

While that is rooted in reality, Mountain (out January 29), from Dogwoof, is a straight up documentary with its head and feet in the clouds. Charting the obsession with man scaling impossible heights, it’s a collaboration with filmmaker Jennifer Peedom, a suitably grizzled narrator in the shape of Willem Defoe and an outstanding score by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and is one of doc specialist Dogwoof’s bigger recent successes. And deservedly so too, it looks an absolute treat on Blu-ray and gets as close to replicating the big screen experience as you can.

With every expert outlining how difficult it is for distributors to survive in the current marketplace, with difficulties finding space in the increasingly crowded theatrical schedule, shrinking revenues from home entertainment (as the narrative runs) and more, it’s always good to see new players entering into the arena. Step forward STX, which arrives into the home entertainment market with the help of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, looking after its releases while STX concentrates on its theatrical slate. The fledgling operation couldn’t have chosen a better partner given SPHE’s recent track record, and first out of the blocks presaging a busy few months’ worth of activity is the excellent thriller Wind River (out January 29). Writer and director Taylor Sheridan’s pedigree is unquestionable thanks to scripting credits on To Hell Or High Water and Sicario, with the former bearing similarities to this tale of death in the middle of nowhere in America, albeit this time with a lot more snow. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen provide the star power, giving it further commercial clout alongside the raft of strong reviews from its theatrical release.

Similarly strongly reviewed, if not more so, is homegrown hit God’s Own Country (Picturehouse Entertainment, out January 29), a tale from Britain’s own wild outdoors – Yorkshire rather than Wind RIver’s Wyoming. Early reports – this is written as the film has been released, suggest that it’s flying off the shelves on the back of the critical acclaim and BAFTA and other nominations that it has earned since its hugely profitable theatrical bow. And deservedly so too, a title such as this deserves to act as inspiration for other filmmakers, independent producers and more. It highlights that local productions, made with relatively low budgets and without star names but compelling subject matter can not only make it to the screen, but can be successful – and work on home entertainment formats too.

And finally, a word about Mother! (out now), Paramount’s hugely divisive horror flick which is as over the top as most of its theatrical reviews suggested and then some. While its box office may not have sparkled, this divisive film has split audiences like no other. It split our living room in two, the kind of conversation that could actually help the film along, especially over a more prolonged period of time…