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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five action movies to stream now

From left, Freddie Highmore, Sam Riley and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey in “The Vault.”

By Robert Daniels


So many action films are massive freak-out affairs with big explosions and even bigger body counts. But every so often I crave modesty, and writer-director David Beton’s “Confession” perfectly fits the bill. It takes place in a single location, a Massachusetts church, where Victor Strong (Stephen Moyer), a mysterious gunman with a bullet wound in his abdomen, takes a priest hostage.

The dialogue-heavy film moves like an elongated confession: Both Victor and the priest, Father Peter (Colm Meaney), are broken, widowed parents estranged from their children. While Father Peter mines information from Victor — who is this mysterious man? — a similarly wounded cop named Willow (Clare-Hope Ashitey) hides in a church closet for the ideal moment to strike. For the meat-and-potatoes gunfights, cinematographer Andrew Rodger relies on wide shots and foreboding blue lighting to imbue them with a melancholic edge. Never fussy, “Confession” feels like a tiny action miracle.

(Rent or buy on Amazon.)

‘The Last Son’

I love a grim western, especially the kind that interrogates the genre’s archetypes: “Unforgiven,” “The Wild Bunch,” “The Homesman” and so forth. Director Tim Sutton’s “Last Son,” a grisly, unrepentantly violent tale, aims for more moderate goals, but moves with a similar vigor.

Borrowing a Shakespearean conceit, Greg Johnson’s script begins with the legend of Isaac LeMay (Sam Worthington), a ruthless gunman hired by the Army to clear the plains of their Indigenous tribes. He caroused with women wherever he went, leaving offspring in nearly every town. A Cheyenne chief’s prophecy — one of the outlaw’s children will murder him — causes him to scour the countryside to eliminate his kin.

Coldblooded racist killers like LeMay are slowly fading from the Western landscape, and so are the people who come to kill him: bounty hunters, his bank robbing son Cal (Machine Gun Kelly) and his quiet daughter Megan (Emily Marie Palmer), a subversion of the genre. When these disparate characters intersect, the enlivening final showdown between them, which involves a Gatling gun, is a bloody, wonderful mess.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)

‘Occupation: Rainfall’

In the not-too-distant future, the last few human survivors living on a decimated Earth are intent on fighting an invading alien species until their last breaths. “Occupation: Rainfall,” writer-director Luke Sparke’s sequel to his film “Occupation,” takes place two years post-invasion. Some of the aliens, such as Garry (Lawrence Makoare), have risked everything by banding together with their human enemies to defend the planet. But the earthlings don’t just distrust their interstellar comrades, they also despise them.

These tensions color the lead characters: Amelia (Jet Tranter), an alien ally, butts heads with the genocidal Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies). Garry goes on a mission with a distrustful soldier (Dan Ewing) to discover the origins of the weapon their extraterrestrial foes have code named Rainfall. Sparke’s action flick includes references to “Starship Troopers,” “Crimson Tide” and “Independence Day,” and features large, epic set pieces. The opening battle, worth the watch in itself, is set in a fiery, ravaged Sydney, and sees aerial dog fights, chaotic gunbattles and a killer comet.

(Stream it on Netflix.)

‘Red Stone’

Another spare entry, writer-director Derek Presley’s period gangster film, “Red Stone,” possesses a surprisingly tender spirit. It features a familiar crime opening: A delinquent teenager, Motley Adams (Dash Melrose), witnesses his brother Danny (Dominic Scott Kay) being murdered by a ruthless crime boss, Jed Haywood (Michael Cudlitz). After finding a precious ruby his brother hid, the titular red stone, Motley goes on the run to evade the FBI and the goons sent by Jed to kill him.

To pad out “Red Stone,” Presley thankfully adds a fascinating wrinkle in Boon (Neal McDonough), a grieving hit man employed by Jed. Boon, who dresses all in black, recently lost four family members in a freak accident. Before the day is out, he needs to attend their funeral, transfer his grandmother to a less expensive home and find Motley before the feds do. The climax might be the ruminative Boon, armed with a lone pistol, succumbing to a crisis of conscience and single-handedly battling a ranch full of bandits. But it’s the final shot, an exhausted Boon laying across four graves as the sun kisses his cheek, that breaks the heart.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)

‘The Time Guardians’

Kyusha (Ksenia Alexeeva), an orphan, desperately pines for a family. She thinks she’s found one when failed fairy tale writer Andrei (Pavel Trubiner) and his wife, Olga (Marina Kazankova), adopt her from a bleak orphanage run by Andrei’s former wicked flame (Lyubov Tolkalina). Kyusha’s foster father tells her of a legend. In St. Petersburg, Russia, is a clock tower built by a czar. It was once run by Pekko, the time guardian, with a warning: If the clock stops, the city will plunge into darkness. Pekko dutifully wound the clock until his daughter died, leading his wife to madness and causing him to leave forever. Now only his heir, armed with his key, can break the darkness.

A frightful adventure, director Alexey Telnov’s film borrows heavily from the Brothers Grimm and Lemony Snicket as Kyusha teams with a washed-up magician to save the dark city and her family from the clutches of an evil witch. “The Time Guardians,” particularly in the way it shows Kyusha’s strength in the face of tragedy, provides a sensitive way for children to engage with difficult issues.

(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)

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