‘A Violent Man’
An upside down, just out of focus image of a man viciously stabbing a prone body on the floor opens the Irish writer-director Ross McCall’s gory, prison crime flick. While it takes time before we learn the victim’s name, the brutal perpetrator, a prisoner named Steve (Craig Fairbrass), is our unlikely protagonist. For the other inmates, Steve’s flights of savagery are notorious. For him, they never feel real because he often blacks out in the middle of his heinous acts.
After Steve has spent 20 years in prison, his daughter (Rosie Sheehy) wants to visit him for reasons he cannot fathom. At the same time, a new inmate, Marcus (Stephen Odubola), has been assigned to his cell. Is Steve capable of changing? McCall’s script not only answers that question, through Steve’s meditative monologues, it seeks to interrogate the shortcomings of prison as a rehabilitative space. In between these plaintive contemplations, bursts of ferocity occur: A man’s nose is nearly sawed off and a horde of inmates beat a possible informer to a pulp. Those ruptures never cease to put an inadequate system on trial in a movie with more than carnage on its mind.
A John le Carré-inspired subterfuge and a scale akin to “Olympus Has Fallen” guides this pulsing espionage film from the director Aku Louhimies.
In the complex plot, Max Tanner (Jasper Paakkonen) is a spy called into action when a group of terrorists take Finland’s president and government leadership hostage by invading the Presidential Palace. Among those trapped inside is Tanner’s colleague and on-again, off-again lover, Sylvia Madsen (Nanna Blondell). Can Max save her?
While the picture, adapted from Ilkka Remes’s novel “Omerta 6/12,” leverages some hefty dramatic tension answering that question, it also inspects the two-faced moralism of government through the eyes of one of the mercenaries, Vasa Jankovic (Sverrir Gudnason), a man driven to unthinkable actions to save his father and steel himself from bankruptcy.
The cinematographers Mika Orasmaa and Rauno Ronkainen rely on the camera’s momentum for sweeping tracks during the movie’s two explosive infiltration scenes (the first occurs in the palace. The second, at the end, takes place in a snowy fortress akin to John Moore’s “Behind Enemy Lines”) for a politically fascinating, intricately shot, thrill ride.
Initially, this film from the French director Cédric Jimenez inspires comparisons with Ladj Ly’s “Les Misérables” when a trio of mistrusted policemen are assigned to a crime-riddled Marseille ghetto governed by drugs and gangs. Similar to Ly’s film, the police often get into open skirmishes with the local criminals. One impressive set piece takes place within a high-rise, wherein an entire neighborhood of people donning masks chases the officers. It moves with the kind of chaotic energy that lets you know the ethically shaky ground the authorities are standing on.
That terrain shifts even quicker when Greg (Gilles Lellouche), Antoine (François Civil) and Yass (Karim Leklou) — the detectives on the specialized anti-crime brigade — begin stealing narcotics from suspects as bargaining chips for their informant (Kenza Fortas). When the cops are arrested, this film, based on a true story, transitions from action to personal melodrama. Their ordeal is leveraged by Jimenez to critique the corruption within the police force and the uneasy power dynamics wielded against marginalized people. By the final somber scenes, you realize just how broken the system is.
‘Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone’
There’s something endearing about a movie knowingly embracing B-movie schlock, especially when it comes from the heart. The director Michael D. Olmos’s action film refashions supernatural myths into a superhero origin story.
At night, Charlie (Charlie Clark), a car dealer by day, participates in underground Lucha Libre fights as a character known as the “Green Ghost” (a play on words of gringo). He accidentally becomes party to a never-ending fight between ancient Mayan gods and demons for control of a magic green stone that promises unimaginable power. Charlie turns to his family for help, who, in turn, sends him to train with otherworldly masters (one is played by Danny Trejo).
Olmos imbues this fun concept with exacting M.M.A. fight choreography, sharp editing and sturdy effects to compose enthralling tussles that involve characters shooting glowing fireballs from their hands. The film’s themes of family and finding your place is made all the more apparent because the commitment by everyone involved is fully felt in this low-budget adventure’s can-do tone.
‘Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher’
Usually, the biopic form doesn’t lend itself well to action flair. But an exception occurs when the subject is an underdog sports figure who must fight the way to the top to triumph. The director Daniel Graham’s “Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher,” about an 18th century bare-knuckle boxer crowned champion of England, is such a film.
Matt Hookings stars as the titular salt-of-the-earth man, with an innate ability for brawling and a desire to avoid the same trap of alcoholism fallen into by his pugilist grandfather Jack Slack (Russell Crowe). The first half of this biopic is gamely shouldered by a smart, knowing performance from Crowe; while the second half is pure blood sport as Belcher’s bouts are braided together with his tumble from grace. The fights are shot with a diffused lens, as though the audience just took a punch to the eye. Graham’s sturdy command of movement, offering an immersive experience, will delight any boxing purist.