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A shot in the dark for UFOs

Dark Skies
DIRECTED BY: Scott
Stewart
STARRING: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Kadan Rockett, Dakota Goyo
CERT: 15A

Stephanie Meyer’s bodysnatching aliens are back and this time they’re going to make you read her books! OK, I made that up, don’t be scared. Dark Skies isn’t half as terrifying as that.

But something weird is going on in the neighbourhood all the same, strange goings-on below in the Barrett house.

Daniel (Hamilton) and Lucy (Russell) are feeling the financial strains of the times. He’s out of a job and she’s struggling to sell in a real estate game that’s dead in the water. To throw a bit more friction in the mix, things start to go all Paranormal Activity. Alarms go off in the middle of the night, the contents of the kitchen begin arranging themselves in fancy piles, while younger son Sam starts seeing the Sandman in his room and finding strange marks on his body. All very creepy but then it goes a bit Twilight Zone, with various family members falling into sudden trances and migrating birds making kamikaze dives on the house.

Not to worry, there’s an expert out there on the internet. Edwin Allard (JK Simmons) is brought in to investigate and concludes that the Barretts are not being haunted or tormented by some mad infant demon, who just wants someone to play with. No, they have merely been selected for special experiments by aliens. What a relief!

But wait. These little guys – they’re called The Greys, clearly wishing to distinguish themselves from their green and blue rivals in space – have been living quietly among us for many years. This new devilment they’re getting up to would suggest an impending hostile move.

Dark Skies works well at times, mostly on account of writer/director Scott Stewart’s deft hand with genuine suspense. His approach is partly down to a small budget but mostly it’s the mark of someone who knows what he’s doing by keeping the family’s tormentor largely under wraps. There’s many a filmmaker who could learn a thing or two by watching.

Unfortunately, there are too many dull scenes between the highlights, too much filler for anyone’s good. And in the end… well, the ending is one of those where viewers find themselves waiting in their seats, hoping for some post-credits snippet that will shed a little more light. It doesn’t arrive.

A bit of a disappointment overall, though watching the great JK Simmons in action is always a pleasure, even in the smallest of roles.

The best thing about Dark Skies is that it got me humming a line from a great little tune as I watched, a song that’s considered in this house to be a lost pop classic. 

The line goes, “She keeps her phone in a tin, so that the ringer sounds like an alien”. This is followed by one of the great lyrics of the modern age, “Taught her canary to sing Ace of Spades, then to trash its cage”.

The song is called She Cuts Her Own Fringe and the band is The Uncle Devil Show, featuring former Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie. Nothing at all to do with movies (though the name was inspired by The Twilight Zone), but in a world where Stephanie Meyer is famous and intent on destroying science fiction for us all, I feel morally obliged to spread a little good. Do enjoy.

 


All Things To All Men
DIRECTED BY: George Isaac
STARRING: Gabriel Byrne, Rufus Sewell, Toby Stephens
CERT: 15A

In All Things To All Men, debut director George Isaac had achieved an extraordinary thing – a short, fast-paced thriller that somehow feels like a long, dreary evening staring into a ditch. That takes some kind of special talent; the kind of genius that might be better spent inventing a time machine.

This is a Gritty British Crime Thriller™, as if perhaps the world was pleading for one more addition to a tired and overpopulated genre. 

It involves a heist that draws together a trio of dodgy characters. Riley (Stephens) is the master thief, hired to pull off the job. Joseph Corso (Byrne) is London’s major crime boss, always looking for a piece of the action but drawn into the mix by family ties. Then there’s Parker (Sewell), a detective determined to take Corso down and keep an unhappy Turkish lender off his back while he’s at it.

Which seems a simple enough story, but throw in a bunch of random characters, dead-end plot strands and convoluted twists and turns and it all gets ridiculously complicated. Which might be almost bearable if there were a few laughs here and there, standard procedure in the Gritty British Crime Thriller™ but painfully absent here. Sharp dialogue is generally a feature of the genre too but writer/director Isaac’s script is a dud on that count.

To his credit, he knows how to frame a nice shot and London looks very fine through his lens. If all else fails, he could walk into a job with the tourist board.

He’s also got Gabriel Byrne on the plus side and Byrne brings as much life and menace as he can to the poor material. In the end, it’s not near enough to save the day.

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