Geoff Cox’s DVD guide: The Descendants, Haywire, The Grey

HERE’S your starter for ten...

Name the six films that have earned George Clooney a total of seven Oscar nominations.

In chronological order, they’re Good Night, And Good Luck (original screenplay and director); Syriana (supporting actor); Michael Clayton (actor); Up In The Air (actor); The Ides Of March (adapted screenplay); and The Descendants (actor).

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Surprisingly, he picked up only one gong out of that lot – for his work in Middle East thriller Syriana.

In THE DESCENDANTS (15: Twentieth Century Fox), he played against his usual dashing persona and narrowly lost out on an Academy Award to Jean Dujardin (The Artist).

Clooney’s Hawaii-based lawyer is negotiating a family land inheritance deal, but is forced to take a more active role in his two daughters’ upbringing when a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma. He learns she was having an affair, a fact his friends and eldest child were keeping from him.

Clooney is greying, baggy and uncool as he tracks down his wife’s lover while processing his own grief. He spends much of his time running around in an awkward style that seems to typify the movie’s sense of absurd tragedy.

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Director Alexander Payne has shown in the past (Sideways, About Schmidt) that he can find moving pathos in older men coping with stagnation and he skilfully rations moments of humorous relief in a film that’s warm and subtle.

> Director Steven Soderbergh’s inspiration for action flick HAYWIRE (15: Momentum) was apparently early Bond, but it’s more like late Bourne.

Although he took the successful caper element of his Ocean films, he removed all the fun to deliver a po-faced, stunt-packed and meaningless action thriller.

Mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano, in her first acting role, trots the globe as mercenary agent Mallory Kane, employed by the US government to carry out secret assignments.

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After she barely escapes with her life while extracting a Chinese journalist held hostage in a Spanish safe house, she tries to find out which of her various employers betrayed her.

Was it her paymaster’s point-man (Ewan McGregor), a smooth CIA official (Michael Douglas) or perhaps a fellow agent (Channing Tatum)?

It doesn’t really matter because the plot is a MacGuffin – an excuse for beat-’em-up set pieces through New York, Barcelona, New Mexico and, probably due to co-funding by the Irish Film Board, a grey and wet Dublin.

The violence is tailored around Carano’s fighting skills, particularly during a lurid sadomasochistic subplot involving the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender.

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> Liam Neeson’s magnetic performance is the saviour of THE GREY (15: Entertainment In Video), the tale of a group of men who survive a plane crash in the Alaskan tundra.

It’s a good job it did, not only for his companions’ sake but for this thriller, which desperately needs some meat on its bones.

Neeson’s hunter is suicidal after losing the woman he loves and then goes into survival mode without much difficulty when a pack of wolves starts stalking the men across the snow. Each man’s weaknesses are teased out, yet the resultant stabs at psychological analysis are unconvincing and it works better as a horror film than a character study.

Neeson is a good enough actor not to require the many flashback scenes he is lumbered with. His air of abandonment is effective, but the film’s main impact comes from the crash sequence and every time the wolves pounce.

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> Two children, one in London, the other in Madrid, are visited by the same mysterious ghostly figure in their bedrooms in INTRUDERS (15: Universal), a puzzling yarn of things going bump in the night.

Spanish boy Juan is terrorised by the hooded monster he calls Hollowface, prompting his mother to seek the help of the clergy in banishing its presence.

The same menace also preys upon 12-year-old Mia in London. Can her father (Clive Owen) come to the rescue, does Hollowface only exist in the youngsters’ minds, or is he a very real threat?

While Owen is fine as a man on the edge, driven to protect his family by any means necessary, the rest of the cast are less convincing as supposedly scared-out-of-their-wits victims.

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The sluggish plot is bogged down by clunky dialogue, there are only brief flashes of tension and the resolution is predictable.

> PIGGY (18: Metrodome) is a dark and brutal story of revenge on the mean streets of London.

When his brother is murdered, Joe (Martin Compston) finds solace in an old family friend, Piggy (Paul Anderson).

Piggy helps Joe cope with his grief, intent on saving him and helping him get justice for his brother’s killing. But as their friendship grows, Joe finds himself in an increasingly dangerous world of violence.