Film reviews: Byzantium | Populaire | Everybody Has a Plan | Blood

Lapdancer Clara (Gemma Arterton) has a blood-soaked secret in the disappointing Byzantium
Lapdancer Clara (Gemma Arterton) has a blood-soaked secret in the disappointing Byzantium
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SUCH is the dismal state of the vampire film that Neil Jordan’s return to it almost 20 years after directing the largely terrible 1994 adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire appears to have generated a modicum of excitement among genre fans.

Byzantium (15)

Directed by: Neil Jordan

Starring: SaOirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Caleb Landry Jones, Jonny Lee Miller,

* *

Byzantium, though, is another artfully dull take on vampire lore, one that rather self-consciously tries to outclass Twilight and its ilk, yet still completely fails to be in any way seductive.

Its twists on the genre – jugular slicing thumbnails instead of pointy gnashers; a journey to a mystical island (replete with waterfalls of blood) instead of feverish transformations – aren’t enough to sustain interest in a story that can’t even put a decent gender spin on a film fronted by two women. Instead, Jordan, working from a script by Moira Buffini (adapting her own play, A Vampire Story), locates the story in the seedy world of lapdancers and prostitution, a failure of imagination that allows the film to exploit Gemma Arterton’s looks while pretending that she’s really playing a strong woman because, hey, her character also has the power to rip a man’s head off after writhing around on his crotch.

She plays Clara, an on-the-run creature of the night, fiercely protective of Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), a younger, moodier, more conscience-troubled bloodsucker with whom she seems to have a familial bond (the exact nature of which is one of the film’s twists). Landing in a rundown seaside resort, they befriend the sappy, mother-obsessed owner (Daniel Mays) of a decrepit hotel and persuade him to turn it into a brothel so Clara can earn a crust away from prying eyes.

On their tail, however, is a Masonic-style order of disgruntled Nosferatus (led by Sam Riley) for whom the very idea of a woman being turned into a vampire is abhorrent. Again, one might think that such a plot device would lead to an intriguing feminist spin on the genre but, no, such notions are as suppressed here as the homoeroticism was in Interview with the Vampire. Instead, the film concentrates on Eleanor and Clara’s relationship in order to tiresomely explore how their virgin/whore dynamic relates to their philosophically opposed attitudes to their own existence. Their characters are not the only things about this film that have been de-fanged.

Populaire (12A)

Directed by: Régis Roinsard

Starring: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson

* * *

THIS highly designed period pastiche of the sort of frothy comedies that were popular in the 1950s is fairly innocuous if forgettable stuff. Recalling the likes of Down With Love and Michel Hazanavicius’s Bond-spoofing OSS 117 movies, it uses a soupçon of satirical self-awareness to offset its otherwise gleeful celebration of old-school chauvinistic cads clashing with their proto-feminist underlings. Playing one of the former, Romain Duris proves likeable enough as Louis, a sharp-dressing, smooth-talking insurance salesman who has made a mess of his love life. But it’s Deborah François – missing-in-action from the international cinema scene since her breakthrough in The Child and The Page Turner – who steals the show. She plays Rose, the new secretary whom Louis decides to groom for success in the world of competitive speed typing. Yes, you read that correctly: competitive speed typing. Against the odds, the incongruity of this plot development is strangely effective when it comes to sustaining Populaire through its shallow, predictable romcom clichés. Between amusingly ludicrous training montages and the sharply edited competition scenes, it’s easy to forget how rote the rest of the film is. Alas, Populaire ultimately feels too desperate to be a crowd pleaser to really satisfy as one.

Blood (15)

Directed by: Nick Murphy

Starring: Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Brian Cox, Stephen Graham

* *

THIS BBC Films adaptation of writer Bill Gallagher’s 2004 mini-series Conviction boasts a top flight cast and Sam Mendes as one of its executive producers (his production company had a hand in bringing it to the screen), but sadly it’s yet another leaden British crime film, bogged down by its portentous approach to its melodramatic TV plot. Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham play sibling cops who take the law into their own hands when the main suspect in the murder of a young girl goes free due to a lack of evidence. The legacy of their tough but now dementia-addled ex-police chief father (Brian Cox) is the root cause of their decision to take a break from doing things by the book, but when a booze-soaked attempt to interrogate the perp goes wrong, a whole heap of family issues begin to emerge that start tearing the brothers apart.

It’s clunky stuff, full of dreary dialogue that Bettany, Graham and Mark Strong (cast as their straight-arrow colleague) do their best to transcend, but without much success. It doesn’t help that Bettany, Graham and Cox have wobbly accents, or that all women in the film are, once again, sidelined in favour of generic alpha-male soul searching.

Everybody Has a Plan (15)

Directed by: Ana Piterbarg

Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Soledad Villamil, Sofía Gala Castiglione, Javier Godino

* * *

THIS Argentina-set neo noir tale of murder and betrayal is notable mainly for the presence of Viggo Mortensen in the twin roles of a depressed Buenos Aires doctor and his low-life, terminally ill brother. When the former decides to fake his own death and take over the latter’s life in the backwaters of the Tigre Delta, he walks into a whole heap of trouble as he becomes embroiled with his brother’s criminal cohorts and winds up as the suspect in a murder. Silly as this sounds, debut director Ana Piterbarg works hard to mute the plot’s more fanciful elements. If fact, she ends up going too far in the wrong direction, turning this into an underpowered thriller instead.

Still, Mortenson, who spent part of his childhood in Argentina, is a natural with the lingo, and even though the film is a little too free and easy when it comes to falling back on his brooding demeanour, he’s never less than compelling to watch. What’s more, by relying so intently on her star to keep our interest, Piterbarg has a chance to quietly build up a sense of place, which gives the film a lived in quality that at least feels genuine, even if the story doesn’t.