Editor’s Notes: Keanu, The American Side, Traded, Louder Than Bombs, The Lobster, The Trust, Sniper: Ghost Shooter, & Traders will be released on their respective formats August 2nd.
Keanu (Warner Home Video) is an action comedy about Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), suburban middle-class guys chafing at recent developments. Rell has been dumped and is brooding. Clarence’s complicated marriage is giving him doubts about his masculinity. When Rell’s kitten, Keanu, is catnapped, the strait-laced pair try to infiltrate a street gang and retrieve the stolen feline by impersonating ruthless killers. But the kitten becomes so coveted that the fight over his custody touches off a gang war, forcing the duo to turn vigilante.
Most of the humor derives from the culture clash between a couple of suburban black men needing to deal with criminals. Having done five seasons of a TV sketch comedy show, Key and Peele have developed an on-screen chemistry, precise timing, and an ability to play off each other for maximum comic effect. The film’s silly premise makes their immersion in the world of criminals all the more hilarious. The bad guys are stereotypes, but that allows Key and Peele to riff creatively on trite character traits and behavior. More stringent editing could have eliminated some slow spots but, overall, Keanu moves briskly and has plenty of laughs. If you know the Keanu Reeves film John Wick, which revolves around the death of the central character’s dog, you’ll enjoy an extra level of parody.
Bonus extras on the widescreen Blu-ray release include the featurette “Keanu: My First Movie,” deleted scenes, and gag reel. A DVD edition with the same extras is also available.
The American Side
The American Side (Sony Home Entertainment) is a thriller that pays homage to 40s and 50s Hollywood noir. Charlie Kaczynski (Greg Stuhr) is a chain-smoking, low-rent private eye working the seamier side of Buffalo, New York. His usual course of business involves using his stripper friend Kat (Kelsey Siepser) to scam his extra-marital affair clients into paying double. Charlie witnesses a murder while on the job one night and is thrust into the midst of a conspiracy and cover-up involving more murder and a notebook belonging to Serbian inventor and mechanical/electrical engineer Nikola Tesla.
Though the movie has all the earmarks of traditional noir, its plot is overly convoluted and complex. Director Jenna Ricker keeps the pace brisk but fails to adequately connect plot threads. We become frustrated, wondering where we are, sort of like getting off a wildly spinning amusement park ride so dizzy that everything around us is spinning. Tesla’s notebook is the film’s major McGuffin — one of too many — and only serves to complicate the plot even more.
Featured performances by Robert Forster, Robert Vaughn, Matthew Broderick, and Janeane Garofalo do little to clarify a bloated, confusing plot. After about a half hour, the movie becomes a chore to follow.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen DVD release.
Traded (Cinedigm) is a gritty revenge tale set on the Western frontier twenty years after the Civil War. Sharpshooter turned rancher Clay Travis (Michael Pare) goes from happily married father of two to a man on a mission after the disappearance of his 17-year-old daughter, Lily (Brittany Elizabeth Williams). Clay leaves his quiet ranch and heads to Wichita where, after confronting the ruthless Ty Stover (Trace Adkins), he discovers that Lily has been traded away into an underground sex ring in Dodge City. There, with the help of old barkeep Billy (Kris Kristofferson), Clay makes a stand to bring his daughter home.
The film draws upon others for inspiration, particularly John Ford’s The Searchers, as well as the more recent Taken. The mixing of the Western genre with the theme of forced prostitution is novel but merely the linchpin on which to hang lots of violence. Director Timothy Woodard, Jr., has fashioned a traditional Western with all the bells and whistles — colorful characters, frontier lawlessness, fight scenes, and a cause worth fighting for, in this case, family.
Tom Sizemore plays Lavoie, a sadistic villain who takes pleasure in torturing his victims. Kristofferson has a face made for Westerns with its deep wrinkles and eyes that suggest he’s seen it all. As the barkeep, he’s a more serious version of Gabby Hayes — a reliable sidekick whose age belies his ability with a gun. Also notable is the film’s depiction of how harsh life was for a woman in the Old West, unusual in a genre that typically takes the masculine point of view.
Bonus extras on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes (with and without commentary).
Louder Than Bombs
Louder Than Bombs (Sony Home Entertainment) takes place during two weeks in 2014, three years after the death of war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert). Having survived bombs in Syria and Afghanistan, Reed died in a head-on collision a few miles from her upstate New York home. Her death is still sorely felt by her husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), and her two sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), a young college professor struggling with his new life as husband and father, and Conrad (Devin Druid), a sullen tenth-grader obsessed with video games and a far more mature fellow student.
The story revolves around a journalist (David Strathairn) who worked with Isabelle and is writing an article in advance of an upcoming exhibition of her war photographs. He warns that his story will reveal the truth about her death.
The movie spans several years in the family’s life, with flashbacks and montages filling in events that led to the dysfunction that has crippled Gene’s relationship with his two sons.
Director Joachim Trier fails to make the characters interesting, engaging, or especially memorable. Byrne’s Gene is a weak man who doesn’t assert himself even when Conrad expresses displeasure that his father is dating. Eisenberg’s Jonah is unsympathetic as a married man who runs off to have an affair shortly after the birth of his first child. By the time we get a complete picture of the family’s dynamic, the journey climaxes in a dramatic whimper.
Bonus extras on the DVD release include director’s commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, and photo gallery.
The Lobster (Lionsgate) stars Colin Farrell as David, who lives in a society in which single people by law have 45 days to find true love or be turned into an animal of their choice. David searches for a new partner and after numerous romantic misadventures joins a rebel faction known as The Loners — a group founded on a total rejection of romance. There, David meets a stranger (Rachel Weisz) who stirs up strong feelings within him.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has created a film in which realism is beside the point. The Lobster is clever, with a surreal point of view and an unwillingness to conform to the conventions of cinematic storytelling. Though it has elements of a romantic comedy, The Lobster is far more, challenging the viewer at nearly every turn in this tale of repression and isolation. At one point, David stays at a hotel while trying to find a partner. Run by a terrifying proprietor (Olivia Colman), the hotel is a halfway house to finding a mate but appears like a concentration camp with fine linens and other creature comforts.
Other hotel guests who must find mates or be turned into animals include the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), and the Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia). The theme of why we chose our mates is raised satirically, with the Limping Man convinced he must find a partner who limps, and David, who is nearsighted, falling for a woman with the same visual impairment.
Laced with black humor, The Lobster is set in a fictional world that is extremely detailed and logically conceived. It skewers modern relationships, suggesting that mating is the priority, not love. The idea of being transformed into an animal as “punishment” for remaining single is both weirdly amusing and bleak.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
The Trust (Lionsgate) stars Nicolas Cage as Jim Stone, supervisor in the evidence room of the Las Vegas Police Department. When he stumbles upon the location of a hidden vault belonging to local drug dealers, he devises a plan to make off with the dirty cash that is sure to be stored within. But getting inside and getting away with its contents won’t be easy. For help, Stone turns to his pot-smoking pal David Waters (Elijah Wood).
This comic thriller focuses on two losers who see a big payday and go for it, even though they’d be breaking the law and likely incurring the wrath of drug dealers who don’t look kindly on having large amounts of cash stolen. The planned theft is a highlight of the movie, even though it’s necessary to suspend disbelief when we see how quickly the pair acquire safecracking skills. In the second half of the film, the heist becomes increasingly complicated and leads to more than one surprise twist.
Cage, who has not been terribly selective of late in the movie roles he’s taken, does a reasonable job as Stone, through his performance does contain distracting Cage-isms such as bland dialogue delivery, wide-eyed stares that suggest an unbalanced mind, and demented laughter. The chemistry between Cage and Wood works in a bizarre kind of way. The drugged-out haze in which Wood’s Waters lives is initially amusing but wears thin.
An interesting casting note: 90-year-old Jerry Lewis plays Stone’s father in a straight dramatic role consisting of only a few scenes with Cage. Lewis is very good and would be welcome in an expanded role.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary with directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer and the featurettes “The Dynamics of a Duo” and “The Visuals of Vegas.” A digital HD copy is included.
Sniper: Ghost Shooter
Sniper: Ghost Shooter (Sony Home Entertainment) is the fifth film in the action franchise about elite sniper Brandon Beckett (Chad Michael Collins), son of the late legendary Thomas Beckett (played in the earlier films by Tom Berenger). Beckett and fellow sniper Richard Miller (Billy Zane) are fighting extremists in the Middle East when Colonel (Dennis Haysbert) assigns them a new mission: protect a gas pipeline stretching between the Republic of Georgia and Western Europe from terrorists. When skirmishes with the enemy lead to U.S. snipers’ being killed by a shooter who locks onto their exact location, a security breach is suspected.
Sniper: Ghost Shooter is the ultimate popcorn flick — lots of action, explosions galore, and endless gunfire. Almost a live-action cartoon, it doesn’t delve into character but presents one action sequence after another. A token love scene is quickly overshadowed by testosterone-driven conflict.
Though entirely fictional, the film resonates in a world of increasing terrorist attacks. The script is simplistic in its portrayals of good and bad guys, with little nuance.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen DVD release.
Traders (Dark Sky Films) is a psychological thriller that taps into the tensions caused by a depressed economy. Harry (Killian Scott) is a young man accustomed to the creature comforts afforded by his job in finance who is cast adrift when his company goes under in an economic downturn. Jobs have disappeared and homes are being repossessed. Suicide rates are at an all-time high.
Newly unemployed Vernon Stynes (John Bradley) might have the solution to the despair brought on by the recession. He masterminds a sinister, all-or-nothing plan he calls Trading. Through an underground network of similarly displaced individuals, two people agree to “trade” by emptying their bank accounts, selling everything they own, and putting the cash in nondescript green bags. They then bring the bags to a remote location, dig a grave, and fight to the death. The winner buries the loser and takes both bags of cash.
Writer-director team Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy have used real-world concerns to created a fictional game that taps into the desperation and humiliation of being out of work and forced to abruptly alter one’s lifestyle. Since most people have at least on occasion experienced anxiety over their financial state, the film’s premise, though far-fetched, is intriguing. The movie poses the question, “How much would you risk to regain your economic status and lifestyle?”
The film flirts with the deal-with-the-Devil theme. Initially, Harry rejects Vernon’s bizarre proposal, but as his circumstances worsen and there seems to be no relief on the horizon, desperation trumps morality. He’s willing to give up his soul and humanity to kill for cash.
Bonus features on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentaries, making-of featurette, and theatrical trailers.