While one art-house chain has decided there’s more money to be made selling food and wine at upmarket prices (and bad luck if you’re in one of those long box office queues just wanting a ticket), Dendy Cinemas in Newtown at least is expanding what inner west film lovers really want. And that’s serving up quality foreign, indie and hard-to-find movies that don’t get screens anywhere else in this city.
To do this Dendy have launched an innovative new way of releasing selected cult films. They’ve called it Dendy Marque – and the titles so-labelled will get a limited 2-week cinema run followed by almost simultaneous release on VOD for the same price of a cinema ticket. Judging by two of the current US indies now screening, the noir-ish Western Sweet Virginia (above) and tough prison drama Shot Caller, it a ripper of an idea!
Sweet Virginia (actually set in Alaska) is a low-key shadowy thriller that forgoes solid straightforward story-telling in favour of smouldering atmosphere and an ominous sense of dread. At times Jamie M Dagg’s neo-noir is so dark that you might like to take along a torch, though even in the dim natural light of the small northern town its set in, there won’t be any chance of missing its sensational performances. They’re all blisteringly good, but Christopher Abbott’s really stands out. He played Marnie’s nice original boyfriend in HBO’s Girls (the one she should have stayed with), but here glowers creepily as a deranged hitman with anger issues. He’s been hired by a local scheming beauty (the always fantastic Imogen Poots) to knock off her useless husband, and while he waits to be paid befriends motel manager Sam (Jon Bernthal, beautifully playing against-type), a sad-eyed former rodeo-star wracked with demons of his own. An absolute must for fans of contemporary neo-noir – it’s the sort of film inevitably overlooked by the multiplexes yet only occasionally turning up at festivals and art-houses too, so thumbs up to Dendy for bringing it to our local screens. Interestingly former Newtown Performing Arts School student and breakout star of 2015’s The Daughter Odessa Young turns up in a small but underwritten role. MA15+ on now at Dendy Newtown, and Dendy Direct from Dec 6. ★★★★ Trailer and bookings.
Also featuring Jon Bernahal (doing what he usually does, playing a treacherous bad ass), at first glance Ric Roman Waugh’s tough and unflinchingly grim prison thriller seems closer to the usual straight to VOD fare, despite the presence (and strongly committed performance) of GoT superstar Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau. He starts out as a mild-mannered middle class stockbroker from Pasadena with a wife (Lake Bell) and son, but after a DUI in which his best friend is killed, he’s sentenced to seven years in the slammer with the sort of hard cases we last saw in cast the HBO’s seminal prison drama Oz. Pretty soon he’s sporting muscles, facial hair, Nazi tatts and a mullet that would frighten Chopper Read. There’s a lot more here than just a tough story of what a man has to do to survive in prison, in fact three storylines overlap before bringing us to a shocking (if somewhat unlikely) climax. That’s a nice twist, and all up it’s an interesting film that’s probably too ambitious for its own good – the sort of hard-to-categorize genre-piece that could easily have trouble finding an audience. It’s well worth a look though, and not only because of the star power of its very impressive lead, who really does give all he’s got. If this fine Danish actor could be as muscular and testosterone-fuelled in the TV show as he is here, those dragons wouldn’t stand a chance. MA15+ on now at Dendy Newtown, and Dendy Direct from Dec 6. ★★★ Trailer and bookings.
Reviews – Russell Edwards