DEJA VU * * *
Cert 12A, 126 mins
Tony Scott movies often give the appearance of having something to say but, dig beneath the surface and they're just high octane sound and fury posing as being meaningful.
Case in point with this existential time-slip thriller. Is there any reason for setting it in a still devastated post Katrina New Orleans? Not really. Likewise, echoing the recent 24, the central terrorism seems to involve misguided patriotism, but motivations are never clear. Does it matter? Well, assuming you're looking for an action movie rather than another Syriana, probably not.
His third appearance for Scott, Denzel Washington does his familiar decent and driven routine as ATF agent Doug Carlin, an Oklahoma City bombing veteran called in to investigate when a ferry explodes killing US Navy families celebrating Mardi Gras.
However, Carlin's more puzzled by a woman's burned body washed up on the riverbank. Looking like a blast victim, autopsy reveals Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) actually died two hours before the explosion, her fingertips cut rather than blown off. Items found in her apartment suggest whoever killed her, also blew up the ferry. Curiously, Carlin's own voice is on her answerphone.
So far, so CSI. Things take a swerve through when FBI agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) invites Carlin to help scrutinise surveillance footage prior to the explosion. Except, these aren't your usual satellite images. What the techies (Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson, Erika Alexander) are watching is actually the past unfolding in real time and "bridged" to the present. Rear Window meets Frequency.
Revealing more would spoil things but, suffice to say, that as Carlin monitors the then living Kuchever he becomes emotionally involved and starts to wonder if there's a way to interact with the past to save her and stop the bomber (Jim Caviezel) without messing up the present.
Overlong, with an underused support cast and somewhat draggy mid-section, even so there's ample compelling intrigue and mind-bending complexities to keep you involved as the puzzle slots together.
The wordless ten minute opening montage is a masterful exercise in suspenseful anticipation while, unusually restrained in the big bangs department, Scott keeps it uncertain as to how things will play out.
Best of all though, is a novel injection of new blood into the deja viewed high speed car chase as Washington pursues Caviezel through heavy traffic. Four days apart.
DEAD MAN'S CARDS * *
Cert 18, 91 mins
Director of Return of the Jedi and Jagged Edge, Welsh born Richard Marquand died just over nine years ago. Now son James looks to continue the family business with this first feature, co-penned with lead actor James McMartin.
Taking its title from the hand Wild Bill Hickock was playing when he was shot in the back, it clearly sees itself as both a contemporary Western and an attempt to emulate the gritty British gangster moods of Long Good Friday and Get Carter.
Set in a run down Liverpool neighbourhood of boxing dives and seedy bars, it certainly looks the part with its striking use of colour and widescreen photography. It just stumbles when it gets to things like plot, dialogue and acting.
A washed up boxer who's just discovered he's impotent, much to the bitterness of his unsympathetic gobby wife (a barely used Samatha Janus), Tom (McMartin) gets himself a job as doorman, at a back street bar owned by Billy (the late Tom Bell), a drink-sodden, tight-fisted Steptoe-esque wannabe cowboy. Here he's befriended by tough guy fellow bouncer Paul (Paul Barber), a mixed race ex-soldier who once served in Belfast and who knows how to handle himself in a fight. He's also seduced, after having his drink spiked with dope and Viagra, by brassy trash barmaid Mary (Lisa Parry).
There's the usual ruckuses with drunks and smack heads, but otherwise the job's uneventful. Until, that is, they turn down an invitation by local crime boss Chongi (Mark Russell) to join his firm of bouncers and he decides to add the bar to his drug dealing one-stops.
Given the ingredients – conflicted loyalties, impotent masculinity, domestic fall out, the clash between old school machismo and contemporary ruthlessness, it ought to deliver a weightier punch than it does.
The narrative runs round in confusing and repetitive circles when it needs a tighter rein to draw audiences in, resulting in something of a dramatic anticlimax come the eventual guns drawn showdown.
Although Barber (who you may recall from The Full Monty) cuts a physically imposing figure with whom you wouldn't want to mess, he never looks completely comfortable with his lines while, sporting a Village people moustache, McMartin fails to being any real presence to what's supposed to be the central character and Russell has to be one of the most blandly feeble villains in the history of British gangster movies.
As a calling card, there's enough to note Marquand as a name to watch for in the future, but he'll need a stronger hand than this.
LEONARD COHEN I'M YOUR MAN * * *
Cert PG, 103 mins
Showing at the Electric for just two days, part interview documentary, part tribute concert, it's a little unclear about whom Lian Lunson's film is actually for.
Devotees of the oft misunderstood septuagenarian Canadian poet-songwriter are more likely to want to hear Cohen performing his songs himself and will probably already know far more about his life than is on offer here. Newcomers and the curious will find little in the often embarrassingly gushing (that'll be Bono then) testimonials to his genius or Cohen's charmingly self-deprecating but wilfully unrevealing reminiscences to explain why the man's such an icon.
Those of us who discovered Cohen back in the 60s, have fought a long and not always successful battle to persuade other ears that the likes of Suzanne, Bird On A Wire, Who By Fire, First We Take Manhattan and If It Be Your Will are not songs to slash your wrists to but richly melancholic, deeply emotional and profoundly spiritual celebrations of life.
Strictly speaking I guess you'd have to admit, he can't really sing. But, blessed with a nicotine, honey and woodsmoke voice, he delivers his semi-spoken delivery is a thing of sublime beauty while just listening to him talk in his richly poetic phrases is almost a religious experience. A pity, then, there's not more of him here.
What you do get is basic biographical facts fleshed out with a few anecdotes, tracing his life story from childhood (where, the son of a tailor, he learned the importance – and sexual allure – of a smart suit) to his early troubadour days and journey from Jew to Christian to Zen Buddhist.
Cannily, he never reveals anything to dispel the air of almost mystical myth he's woven around himself, and Lunson never pushes him to dig deeper. What she does do, rather irritatingly, is play stylistic tricks around Cohen's interviews, as if somehow he wasn't sufficiently interesting enough to hold your attention with just his words.
As for the concert, while filmed with a dearth of visual flair, there are some musically inspired moments, most strikingly Nick Cave's rumblingly gothic version of Suzanne, the Handsome Family and Linda Thompson's haunting reading of 1000 Kisses Deep (bizarrely absent from the soundtrack CD), Jarvis Cocker with Death of a Ladies Man and Antony (he of the Johnsons) pouring transcendental liquid tones across If It Be Your Will.
Given his decent turn on Chelsea Hotel No 2, it's painful to hear Rufus Wainwright mangle the wonderful Hallelujah, but he makes up for things with his story of first meeting his hero, dressed in his underwear and feeding a baby bird small pieces of sausage in the kitchen before disappearing and re-emerging in dapper Armani.
Cohen himself only performs one number, Tower of Song, at the very end. Lip synching on a cabaret club set, where, even though incongruously backed by U2 and a duetting Bono, he serves reminder that when it comes to singing the songs of Leonard Cohen, he really is your man.
BLACK CHRISTMAS *
Cert 15, 84 mins
As horror devotees will know, this is a remake of the much acclaimed 1974 Canadian cult by Bob Clark (who went on to make both A Christmas Story and Porky's) that more or less kickstarted the whole teen slasher genre and provided gleefully scary alternative to the familiar cloying seasonal schmaltz.
The original, which starred Margot Kidder (who even won a Best Actress gong in Canada), Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea, was innovative (it began with the killer's point of view that Carpenter would rip off for Halloween), creepy and even (with its abortion subplot) had a moral dimension.
This update is none of the above.
Although the screenplay fleshes out psycho Billy with a backstory (abused yellow-skinned kid develops eyeball obsession, murders loathsome family, has mum for dinner, gets locked up in asylum) and supply some sort of warped motive and a demented new sibling, the nuts and bolts remain much the same. Just gorier.
So, it's Christmas Eve, and a bunch of girls and their house mother (Andrea Martin, who played Phyllis in the original) are stuck in the snowbound sorority house where young Billy was once kept locked in the attic.
First they start getting scary phone calls from inside the house, then they're bumped off one by one and their eyes gouged out.
However, since none of the girls (forgettably including C-listers Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Lacey Chabert) possess more than a single personality trait, it's a bit difficult to either keep track or care.
As if realising he's on a loser as horror, director Glen Morgan tries to play it tongue in cheek with allusions to 30 years of slasher movies and cheesy flashbacks charting Billy's life from birth through witnessing dad's murder, forced incest and the eventual butchery that led to him being institutionalised.
But, just as the killings lack invention, so there's precious little of the dark post-modernist wit the filmmakers evidenced in their Final Destination trilogy.
The biggest scare you'll have is likely to come from seeing the opening shot of the sorority house illuminated with Christmas lights and thinking you've accidentally wandered into Deck The Halls instead.