Into the Woods

Braven M Braven 2018

Theaters:  February 2018

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  93-94 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Drama – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.4/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  60/100

Metacritic User Score:  7.8/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Lin Oeding

Written by: Mike Nilon, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett

Music by:  NA

Cast: Jason Momoa, Garrett Dillahunt, Stephan Lang, Zahn McClarnon, Jill Wagner, Sasha Rossof

Film Locations: Newfoundland, Canada

Budget: $NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $125,000

Joe Braven (Momoa) owns and operates a logging company from a small town in the forests of Canada, living a quiet life with his wife Stephanie (Wagner), their young daughter Charlotte (Rossof), and Joe’s father Linden (Lang), who suffers from dementia. One of Joe’s log haulers, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), agrees to transport drugs hidden in a hollowed out log for a ruthless syndicate of drug dealers.  During transport of the logs, and drugs, on a dark and snowy night, Weston crashes the truck, spilling the logs all over the deserted mountain road.  They move the drugs to Joe’s nearby, empty cabin before the sheriff shows up to assist with the truck accident.

Joe and his wife are having an increasingly difficult time caring for Linden and the doctors suggest they consider alternatives for his care. Stephanie suggests that Joe take Linden up to the cabin for a one-on-one discussion about possible elder-care options.  As they ride up to the cabin, Charlotte sneaks along as a stowaway.  After arriving at the cabin Joe and Linden discover the drugs, and Charlotte, both unexpected.  They immediately realize that whoever planted the drugs will be coming back for them and because of Charlotte they need to urgently leave the area. In the meantime the drug syndicate is rapidly converging on the cabin to retrieve the drugs and eliminate any witnesses. The action quickly escalates to a no-holds-barred display of death and destruction by all means available.

This is Lin Oeding’s first movie directing and he does an admirable job putting together a coherent, compelling story on a limited budget.  He initially takes a long, slow, meandering ride developing the plot that has the audience tapping their toes and checking their watches, waiting for a movie that is billed as an action movie to produce some action. When Oeding finally gets all the preliminaries out-of-the-way, he injects an overdose of adrenaline into the scenes, producing a wild ride of novel, engaging, and thrilling action against a contrasting backdrop of snow-covered mountain beauty. The story is familiar but the execution is pleasantly different.  As a freshman effort, Oeding gets the job done with few complaints from the viewers but it’s his biography that generates as much interest, for me at least, as the movie.  He’s a martial arts fighter with an impressive record of 16-1-2, has performed stunts in the 2010 Inception, was the stunt coordinator for the 2014 The Equalizer, and the 2015 Straight outta Compton, performed fight scenes with just about everyone including Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise, and Vin Diesel, competed in bare-knuckle, pay-per-view fighting and is a 1989 Nintendo’s semi-finalist world champion as well as a world-class Tetris player.  What does this guy do to relax?

Mike Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett have put together a screenplay that has few holes and lots of original action.  My only complaint is when Charlotte is rescued by the local sheriff they immediately drive her back to the very hot kill-zone. This is Nilon’s first attempt at writing and in the past, has used his energy in producing movies such as the 2014 Left Behind fantasy drama. This is also Sibbett’s first writing credit, known previously for consulting on the 2017 short, I am Because You Are.

Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa of the 10th season Baywatch fame, provides a believable character in Joe Braven, executing the sparse dialogue but intense action scenes with a smoothness that belies his hulking mass.  With Jason as the proletarian workhorse, Garrett Dillahunt plays the impatient thoroughbred, chomping to complete the task and move on.  He nails the psychopath persona with egotistical aplomb and a general’s overly assured command of his inferiors.

Braven is an easy movie to settle into, once you get past the opening drudgery. It provides entertainment without any preachy philosophy getting in the way.  The movie is well worth the 90 plus minutes.  Grab the popcorn and enjoy.

Stockholm Syndrome

The Pirates of Somalia  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 116-118 minutesM Pirates 2017

Genre:  Biography-Drama

els – 6.0/10

IMDb – 6.9/10

Amazon – 3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore – 54/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.8/10

Directed by:  Bryan Buckley

Written by:  Bryan Buckley

Music by:  Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau

Cast:  Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Melanie Griffith, Al Pacino

Film Locations:   Cape Town and Western Cape, South Africa; New York, US

Budget:   NA

Worldwide Box Office:  NA

Jay Bahadur (Peters), a young, idealistic Canadian, aspires to be a journalist, but his job prospects are poor to nonexistent. Going to Somalia to observe, interview, report, and write a book on the pirates is just the scoop he needs to break into the profession. He wrote a term paper in his first year of college romanticizing the peaceful transition to power of a newly elected government in Somalia, in which he extrapolates from that occurrence, a country that is a charming spot of sand, full of peace and love, not so different from his beloved home country of Canada; minus the sand of course. He naively weaves this theory throughout the movie, and beyond, with conviction, never contemplating that Somalia life and politics may be just a tad more complicated and less perfect than this young, inexperienced man may imagine.

With some journalistic mentoring from a retired newsman, Seymour Tolden (Pacino), Jay sets off for Somalia without any real inkling of what he is up against. Using Tolden’s contacts in the country, along with bribes and khat, a local addictive stimulant, he gains access to the pirates and is able to document their side of the story. The pirates see themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking from the multinational corporations what is due them. Due them for past wrongs, due them for the British and Italian colonization and to help set matters right. I suspect the Nazis, the Mafia, Castro, Chavez, and countless others saw matters in a similar light; it was their due and they were going make everything alright.

The movie is based on a biographical account, chronicled in the 2011 New York Times bestseller: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur. The movie was filmed in early 2016, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017 and was released in the US on 8 December 2017.

Leaving the kid’s politics aside, just for a moment, this is an interesting and well filmed and acted drama, with the exception of the tongue-in-cheek over prints and narratives which are fun and irritating at the same time, depicting life in Somalia and the pirates claim to authority and respect in this peaceful country.  At the end of the movie Bahadur appears to have made a very good living off his book, movie and consulting; telling the world about the wonderful and peaceful land of Somalia and its citizens.

The problem with his story though is that he never successfully bridges the logical, the cerebral disconnect between the peaceful transition of the newly elected government with the existence of the shadow government run by the pirates; much less contemplate the very peaceful, 1991 civil war, precipitated by the smooth transition-to-power-coup that claimed up to 500,000 lives and resulted in 1,000,000 plus refugees, or using the pc correct term: displaced persons. Add to that, the bloodless 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, that claimed 19 American lives, 73 wounded and 1 captured, which was subsequently documented and portrayed, poorly, in the 2002 film: Black Hawk Down.  An interesting aside is that in this movie the Somalis complain that no Somalis were used as actors in depicting the butchering of Americans in Black Hawk Down. The irony is lost on Bahadur. Jay Bahadur is naive and likely not very bright, he wanted to go into journalism for cripes sakes, but watch the movie anyway, it’s a useful lesson in ignorance and a trusting nature leading to self-deception.

Do it the Hard Way–Do it Yourself

Hollow in the Land (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: NA  Runtime: 92-99 minutesM Hollow 2017

Genre:  Drama-Mystery-Thriller

els – 5.0/10

IMDb – 5.6/10

Amazon – 3.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.1/5

Metacritic Metascore – 54/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by:  Scooter Corkle

Written by:  Scooter Corkle

Music by:  NA

Cast:  Dianna Agron, Rachelle Lefevre, Shawn Ashmore

Film Locations:   Castlegar, Canada

Budget:   NA–Low Budget Indie Film

Worldwide Box Office:  NA

Alison Miller (Dianna Agron), a young woman, bereft of parents; mother dead, father serving time for drunken vehicular homicide, is desperately trying to keep her immature and obnoxious brother out of jail until he turns 18, all the while, working at a factory owned by the family of the young boy killed by her father. On the one-year anniversary of Alison’s father’s crime, her brother disappears after his girlfriend’s father is murdered. Alison begins trying to unravel mystery of her brothers whereabouts and the events that led to his suspicious disappearance.

Hollow in the Land was filmed in the small logging and mining community of Castlegar, British Columbia, home town to this movie’s director and writer: Scooter Corkle. The town is nestled in the valley at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers with the picturesque Selkirk Mountains towering above; sometimes referred to as a mountain hollow; pronounced holler if you are from West Virginia. Hollow also signifies the meaningless and pointless existence of the Millers, living as outcasts among small town hypocrites and cheats.

As a low-budget film, everything works except the story. It pulls all the right emotional strings, but intellectually it’s a beginning to end bust.  You watch the movie and just keep repeating to yourself: why, why does Alison do what she does?  A little thought shows a better way, a simpler plot with the same outcome, without traipsing down alleys and back roads, leading to the same place as the freeway. The movie starts out very slow with digressions that are simply insane and after 15 minutes of that goop, your mind tells you to get up and walk away.  If you stay it gets a little better and a little quicker, but just a little.

Some scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor, including a clip of Alison’s brother and his girlfriend swapping saliva, unconvincingly, for what feels like 20 excoriating minutes. A glancing blow of that scene would have been sufficient. The girl, moments after her father is murdered, is shown in an angelic, peaceful sleeping pose. Ain’t life wonderful? A few moments later the curtain opens, literally, to Alison and the girl’s mother, ex-wife of the murdered man, having a touching shower scene together. Made sense to someone.  Additionally, there are scenes and script that cause brain cells to scream out in anguish. Alison working for the family that lost their son due to the actions of her father. Why, why, why?  Alison playing amateur sleuth and never sharing anything with the police even though one of her few friends is a deputy.  Why, is never explained.

This is a flip of a coin movie. Heads watch it, tails, trim your toenails. As a mystery it is pretty good.  The process to the solution of the mystery is incoherent and the trips down the back roads are maddening.  Hollow may actually mean that the movie is insignificant and meaningless.


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