Breakthrough roles tend to reduce an actor to typecasting, but after seeing the “The Guest” it’s impossible to ever again see Dan Stevens as nice Cousin Matthew from “Downton Abbey.” As a mysterious probable-psycho who shows up at the home of a Midwestern family, claiming to have been friends with their late soldier son, Stevens is confident in a way that’s both chilling and charismatic — a guy you know is no trouble but who you’re drawn to anyway. Many of the characters in Adam Wingard’s indie thriller fall under his sway; most of those meet unpleasant ends. But even when Stevens’ character has gone full baddie, it’s impossible not to root a little for him anyway. “The Guest” has more going for it than Dan Stevens. Wingard’s direction borrows from the Nicolas Winding Refn mix of confident shots and ’80s synth music. But at its best it’s as seductive as its star, who if he’s going to be typecast should be typecast as this.
There’s no shortage of films critical of Israeli’s mandatory military service, but “Zero Motivation” is the first to play more like an episode of “The Office.” Divided into three stories, all revolving around two longtime female friends (Dana Igvy, Nelly Tagar), it reveals the army as little but a life of drudgery — just another job with fatuous bosses. The tone seems to go a little too heavy in the first story before swinging back into something more absurdist, including a stapler fight for the ages. But there’s a seriousness under the silliness; our heroes have nothing approaching national pride, suggesting the coming generations may be a pretty progressive bunch.
‘The Great Escape’
John Sturges wasn’t the kickiest of directors, and his last films (“Ice Station Zebra,” “McQ”) tended to be square and inert. But his most famous film is downright giddy, albeit depicting a real attempt by Allied forces to bust out of a German POW camp. As an all-star cast, which makes room for both Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson, patiently digs their way to almost-safety, we’re invited not to think of the grim business going on elsewhere during the war but to relish in the boys’ adventure of sticking it to The Man. Even what should be a downer ending is light. Had it been made a decade, or even half a decade, later who knows how dark it would have been?