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On DVD/Blu-ray: THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013) and COLD COMES THE NIGHT (2014)

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THE LAST DAYS ON MARS
(UK/Ireland - 2013)

Not as good as EUROPA REPORT but still far better than STRANDED, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is, like those films, another throwback ,'80s-inspired outer space horror outing that only managed the get the slightest of theatrical releases.  This one tries to be a thinking person's sci-fi film along the lines of EUROPA REPORT, MOON, and SUNSHINE, but it works best when it's content to be a straight-up B-horror movie.  Indeed, MARS gets off to an extremely brisk start for these kinds of things, barely establishing most of the characters before they start getting offed one by one.  Then, faced with a lot of time and too few people left to kill, things slow down to the point where it becomes a crushing bore.  It almost feels like director Ruairi Robinson and screenwriter Clive Dawson have more highbrow things in mind but decided to get the commercial obligations out of the way first and finding nothing else on their plate to fill the second half of the movie.  They should've slowed down and paced themselves for the long haul.  And have fun with it--this should've been titled SPACE ZOMBIES or even MARS NEEDS ZOMBIES and just rolled with it. 



On the last day of a six-month international mission to the red planet, crew member Marko (Goran Kostic) is investigating trace evidences of life when a crater opens up and sucks him under the Martian surface.  Captain Brunel (Elias Koteas) leads some of the crew on a search, and they lose Dalby (Yusra Warsama) in the process.  While Brunel and a few others are still out, a zombified Marko and Dalby turn up at the ship and try to kill the others.  As the infection spreads and the dead crew members revive to attack, second-in-command Campbell (Liev Schreiber) is forced to find his inner Ripley and take control.  LAST DAYS works best in the early going, and it starts so well that it just barrels through its limited number of actors and grinds to a halt right when it should be gaining momentum.  It's a backwards approach that might've worked if the filmmakers had anything significant to say, but this isn't exactly hard sci-fi we're dealing with here.  It's zombies in space but somehow finds a way to screw it up.  With location shooting in the vast deserts of Jordan, LAST DAYS looks terrific, the interiors on the ship have an effectively claustrophobic atmosphere, and the cast (Schreiber and Koteas are good, and there's also Olivia Williams, Romola Garai, and Johnny Harris) is unusually credible for such standard genre fare.  It's suspenseful and engrossing for about 50 minutes before its slow, shambling stagger to an unsatisfying conclusion. Universal put up some of the budget, but must not have seen much potential, opting to hand the US distribution rights over to Magnet, who dumped it on 13 screens for a $24,000 gross.  (R, 98 mins)


COLD COMES THE NIGHT
(US - 2014)

The late, great Anthony Perkins' son Osgood Perkins co-wrote this drab, tired would-be film noir that offers no suspense and no surprises other than a shockingly bad performance by the usually infallible Bryan Cranston.  Using the dual crutches of fading eyesight and a garbled Russian accent, Cranston is Topo, a money mule on a delivery with his dumbass nephew/driver Quincy (Robin Lord Taylor).  They stop for a few hours' sleep at a shitty motel run by widowed Chloe (Alice Eve), who lives on the property with her daughter Sophia (Ursula Parker of LOUIE).  The motel primarily functions as a brothel for the local hookers and a safe haven for drug dealers, overseen by corrupt cop Billy (Logan Marshall-Green), an ex of Chloe's who gives her a cut of his proceeds (Chloe, of course, has a heart of gold and the illegal activities are just a way to make ends meet).  When Quincy attacks a hooker and both are killed in the melee, his Jeep--with the money Topo was supposed to deliver--is impounded by the cops, led by (who else?) Billy, who searches the vehicle and makes off with the loot he finds inside.  Desperately needing his money and helpless with his poor eyesight, Topo kidnaps Chloe and forces her to help him recover what belongs to his employers. 


COLD COMES THE NIGHT just never works, whether it's the inconsistency of Topo's eyesight (he can't drive, he can't count money and can't see to write anything on a piece of paper in front of his face, but he's a point-blank crack shot and can get the edge on several people who can actually see), the cartoonish ludicrousness of Cranston's accent, which is less like a BREAKING BAD badass and more like Evil Yakov Smirnoff (at one point, he pulls a gun and orders someone to "Shut fuck up"), or the complete lack of urgency in the slumbering direction of co-writer Tze Chun, who never gives this any sense of pacing, energy, or logic.  Watch the scene where Billy pulls Chloe and Topo over for a traffic stop, swearing at them over his PA speaker in the middle of town, in no way behaving like a dirty cop who knows how to keep a secret.  There's ultimately no reason for Topo to be blind or Russian other than to indulge Cranston with a character who comes off more like an SNL parody than a credible, threatening villain.  There's so little here that the film actually ends at around the 78-minute mark, but there's an absurdly slow-moving, 12-minute (!) closing credits crawl to pad this thing out to 90 minutes.  Cranston is uncharacteristically off his game here, but Marshall-Green (PROMETHEUS) is worse, and KIDS star Leo Fitzpatrick is wasted in a nothing role as a second driver who taxis Topo around.  A bland misfire, the thoroughly forgettable COLD COMES THE NIGHT opened on just 16 screens in January 2014, pulling in a paltry $17,000.  (R, 90 mins)

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