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Crawl (2011) / D: Paul China / 80m

Cast: George Shevtsov, Georgina Haig, Paul Holmes, Lauren Dillon, Catherine Miller, Bob Newman, Andy Barclay, Lynda Stoner

Crawl

Rating: 7/10 – a hitman (Shevtsov) hired by an unscrupulous bar owner (Holmes) winds up injured while trying to leave town, and ends up playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a waitress (Haig) when he seeks refuge in her home; a slow-burn thriller that takes its time and relies on tension and atmosphere to keep the viewer hooked, Crawl often belies its low budget, and features terrific performances from Shevtsov (in a role written expressly for him) and Haig, but stops short of being completely effective thanks to some awkward narrative choices and first-timer China’s lack of experience as a director.

The Asian Connection (2016) / D: Daniel Zirilli / 91m

Cast: John Edward Lee, Pim Bubear, Steven Seagal, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Gibson, Byron Bishop, Eoin O’Brien, Michael Jai White

The Asian Connection

Rating: 3/10 – career criminal Jack Elwell (Lee) meets the love of his life, Avalon (Bubear), and decides that robbing a bank is the way to a financially stable relationship, but unfortunately the money he steals belongs to crime boss Gan Sirankiri (Seagal), and soon Jack is being coerced into robbing more of Sirankiri’s banks when one of his men (Boonthanakit) threatens to expose him; what could have been a moderately entertaining action thriller is let down by some atrocious acting (and not just from Seagal), some equally atrocious camerawork, editing that looks like it was done with a hatchet, and the kind of direction that gives “point and shoot” a bad name, all of which leaves The Asian Connection looking like something to be avoided at all costs.

Banshee Chapter (2013) / D: Blair Erickson / 87m

Cast: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian, Corey Moosa, Monique Candelaria, Jenny Gabrielle, Vivian Nesbitt, Chad Brummett, William Sterchi

Banshee Chapter

Rating: 3/10 – a journalist (Winter) looks into the disappearance of a friend, and discovers a secret world of government experiments that are linked to strange radio broadcasts and the discredited MK Ultra program from the Sixties; a paranoid thriller with supernatural overtones, Banshee Chapter tries extra hard to be unsettling and creepy – much of it takes place at night and has been shot using low light – but fails to make its story of any interest to anyone watching, which means that Winter and Levine put a lot of effort into their roles but are let down by the tortuous script and Erickson’s wayward direction.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015) / D: Ron Howard / 122m

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Michelle Fairley, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle, Charlotte Riley

In the Heart of the Sea

Rating: 5/10 – the writer, Herman Melville (Whishaw), convinces retired sailor Tom Nickerson (Gleeson) to talk about his experiences as a young boy at sea, and in particular his time aboard the Essex, a whaling ship that encountered a creature Melville will call Moby Dick; based on the true story of the Essex, and the voyage that saw it sunk by an enormous whale, In the Heart of the Sea is technically well made but lacks anyone to care about, avoids providing a true sense of the enormity of what happened, sees Ron Howard directing on auto-pilot, and leaves Hemsworth and Walker struggling to make amends for characters who are paper-thin to the point of being caricatures (or worse still, carbon copies of Fletcher Christian and William Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty).

The Notebook (2004) / D: Nick Cassavetes / 123m

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Sam Shepard, David Thornton, Joan Allen, James Marsden

The Notebook

Rating: 7/10 – in the late Thirties, a young man, Noah (Gosling), sets his cap for the girl of his dreams, Allie (McAdams), and though they fall in love, social conventions keep them apart, while in the modern day their story is told by an old man (Garner) to a woman with dementia (Rowlands); handsomely mounted and told with a genuine feel for the central characters and their travails, Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook is an old-fashioned romantic drama that could have been made in the time period it covers, and which is bolstered by the performances of its four stars, as well as Cassavetes’ (son of Rowlands) sure-footed direction, glorious cinematography by Robert Fraisse, and a sense of inevitable tragedy that permeates the narrative to very good effect indeed.

Apache War Smoke (1952) / D: Harold F. Kress / 67m

Cast: Gilbert Roland, Glenda Farrell, Robert Horton, Barbara Ruick, Gene Lockhart, Harry Morgan, Patricia Tiernan, Hank Worden, Myron Healey

Apache War Smoke

Rating: 6/10 – a stagecoach station finds itself under attack from angry Apaches after a white man kills several of their tribe – and the evidence points to the station agent’s father, a wanted outlaw (Roland), as the killer; a compact, fast-paced Western, Apache War Smoke zips by in low-budget style thanks to the efforts of two-time Oscar winner Kress – editing awards for How the West Was Won (1962) and The Towering Inferno (1974) – and a cast who enter willingly into the spirit of things, making this studio-made Western set in Tonto Valley Station(!) a surprising treat.

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