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.

Bullets from the Past

22 Bullets  (L’immortel, original title — French Audio, English Subtitles)M 22 Bullets 2010

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115-117 minutes

Genre:  Action  – Crime – Drama – International – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

Theaters:  Europe – March 2010

Streaming:  US – February 2014

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  6.7/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Richard Berry

Written by:  Eric Assous and Richard Berry (screenplay), Franz-Olivier Giesbert (book)

Music by:  Klaus Badelt

Cast:  Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Film Locations:  Avignon, Marseille, Paris, France

Budget: $20,000,000

Worldwide Take: $21,300,000

Charlie Mattei (Jean Reno) after a career as a gangster wants to retire and spend the rest of his life peacefully with his family; a wife and 2 children.  Well, if wishes were politicians, thieves would rule — oh wait.  Mattei leaves his gangster business to his old criminal friend, Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad), and for 3 years he actually enjoys some peace until someone has 8 mobsters pump Charlie full of chemically accelerated lead. Charlie miraculously survives and recovers from the damage of 22 bullets and sets out to find those responsible; first without bloodshed then when that doesn’t work, firmer measures are employed.

The movie is loosely based on the real life Marseille mobster, Jacques “Jacky Le Mat” Imbert, who in the 1950s specialized in burglaries, hold-ups, and general thuggery.  By 1960s he added extortion, kidnapping and murder to his resume and was, and still is, considered the “Last Godfather” within French crime circles. In the late 1970 Imbert was gunned down by several mobsters associated with his old crime boss, Tony Zampa.  Doctors removed 22 pieces of metal from his body including 7 bullets.  He survived but his right hand was paralyzed.  Later 11 mobsters working for Zampa were gunned down in apparent retaliation for the failed hit. Police suspected and arrested Imbert but released him after 6 months for lack of evidence in the murders.  He reportedly retired when released but continued to associate with gangsters in Paris including the angelic, drug kingpin Francis “The Belgian” Vanverberghe of  The French Connection infamy.

Richard Berry, director, screenwriter and actor, known mainly for his work in French cinema, puts together a glossy gangster movie with great acting talent and replete with all the essential scenes of murder and car chases but little in the way of pizzazz or a hold-onto-your-seat intensity.  The movie at first has visions of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather but quickly degenerates into a story too-many-times told with an uneven delivery of what, in the end, is another pedestrian revenge flick.  The movie keeps your interest but the character development is spotty for the secondary actors, leaving the viewer occasionally lost in the gun-smoke of plot development.  Berry could have also left out the morality lectures from gangsters; way too out-of-place for this genera. Honor among thieves is one thing but mobsters as altar boys is a step too far.

Jean Reno plays Charlie Mattei with his usual aplomb and sophistication which always makes him one of the more, if not the most interesting person in a movie.  Think Leon in The Professional or the inspector Captain Bezu Fache  in Da Vinci Code.

This is an average revenge movie with some interesting and creative scenes of the bad guys delivering justice to the bad guys but it never gets past the formulaic, and thus, predictable plot.  The movie could have been much more with less mobster morality, more with less graphic in your face violence, more with less regularity; a few real plot twists would have taken this movie to another, more interesting level.

A Little Big Tale

Little Big Man (Theaters – December 1970; Streaming – April 2003)  Rated: PG  —M Little 1970  Runtime: 139 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Comedy – Satire – Western

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  7.6/10

Amazon:  4.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore:  63/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.0/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Arthur Penn

Written by:  Calder Willingham (screenplay), Thomas Berger (book)

Music by:  John Hammond

Cast:  Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan

Film Locations: Calgary, Morely, Alberta, Canada; Billings, Crow Indian Reservation, Hardin, Lame Deer, Little Big Horn Battlefield, Nevada City, Virginia City, Montana – Agoura Hills, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, California, US

Budget: $15,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $31,600,000

An ancient and time-worn Jack Crabb (Hoffman), spending his final days in a nursing home, relates his incongruous life of farce and fate to an interested historian.  At the age of 10 a Pawnee raiding party attacks his family and kills his parents. Later a Cheyenne brave finds him and his sister hiding in their destroyed wagon and takes them back to his tribe.  The tribe’s chief, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) raises the boy and thus begins a series of improbable events that punctuate Jack’s long and full life. Indian on Indian battles, white on red battles, sexually repressed preacher’s wife battles, gunfighter playing, snake oil selling, drunken despondency; all  in a day in the life of a western meme.

Arthur Penn creates a movie of contrasts that is labeled revisionist history but is no more than a comedy situated in the late 19th century American west, incorporating events of historical interest but not necessarily accurate or correct. The contrasts are established through the lives of the story’s actors, their happenstance encounters and experiences highlighting life’s hypocrisy and charades. Jack as a natural gunfighter that cannot stomach killing, a preacher’s wife that seeks pleasure over salvation, a narcissistic general searching for fame through folly. A tragedy’s lessons told through tongue-in-cheek schtick. An effective delivery of farce that unfortunately passed as truth for millions of viewers.

Hoffman takes top billing as lead actor and he delivers a masterful performance both on-screen and as the voice-over narrator, but it is Chief Dan George who shines, turning an ok script into a wonderful exhibition of cheerful existence in the face of our inhumanity. George was nominated for an Academy Award but unfortunately lost out to John Mills in the totally forgettable Ryan’s Daughter. Richard Mulligan, as Custer, turns in a performance that is remarkable in its absurdity, an under-dog role elevated to a tour-de-force of parody. Faye Dunaway’s hilarious representation as a sexually needy whore and preacher’s wife sets the standard for urgency over love, a role reprised brilliantly by Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp in the 1974 romp, Blazing Saddles.

Little Big Man is a fun chuckle of a movie that should not be confused for history but as a satire of the past. A movie encompassing a large swath of all western tales encapsulated into a few hours of humor and jest.

 

Dying Young

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Theaters – December 2008; Streaming – May 2009) M Button 2008Rated: PG  —  Runtime: 166 minutes

Genre: Drama – Fantasy – Mystery – Romance – Suspense

els – 7.5/10

IMDB – 7.8/10

Amazon – 4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore – 70/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.3/10

Awards:  3 Academy Awards – Nominated for 13

Director:  David Fincher

Written by:  Eric Roth (story and screenplay), Robin Swicord (story), F. Scott Fitzgerald (story)

Music by:  Alexandre Desplat

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond

Film Locations:  Cambodia; Montreal, Canada; India; Burbank, Los Angeles, California – Donaldsonville, Laplace, Mandeville, Morgan City, New Orleans, Louisiana, US; St. Thomas, US Virgin Island

Budget:  $167,000,000

Worldwide Take:  $379,000,000

Mr. Gateau, the best clockmaker in all of the southern US, is commissioned to build a clock for a new train station set to open in 1918. When the clock is unveiled, it is running backwards. Mr. Gateau, who lost a son to the recent war, affirms that it is running as designed; to  grant those lost to the war a way back to life and the living.  On 11 November 1918, Armistice Day, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born, wrinkled and worn, losing his mother to his birth and his father, abandoning him on the porch of an orphanage. Benjamin is a consistent contradiction, experiencing life in a counter-clockwise direction.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button took 20 years, 7 potential directors prior to Fincher, 3 lead actors before Pitt, 3 different possible producers, and 2 production companies to finally deliver a product for the viewing public to consume. David Fincher brings his visual effect expertise to the forefront, as he usually does, with this enchanted story of love and time. He balances the CGI with a spellbinding collage of romance and courage that moves beyond the flesh. The visual effects are absolutely stunning, keeping this fantasy real and believable.  Fincher was likely the only director that could make this movie and keep the audience interested.

Brad Pitt contributes a somewhat predictable performance, detached but lovable, low-key and restrained, letting his body language provide the message, more so than his dialogue. It works and adds to the mystic of the film but it’s Cate Blanchett’s Daisy that draws you into this movie.  Daisy is a very complex character and Blanchett handles it with grace, charm, and a natural style that holds you in a delightful, enamored state of wonder throughout the film. Sad that she wasn’t even nominated for her more than deserving efforts by the Academy or the Golden Globes.

Benjamin Button is beautifully made, telling a story of true love that outstrips the concepts of time.

 

Boiler Maker Redemption

Small Town Crime (Theaters-NA; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  —  Runtime: 91-92 M Small Town 2018minutes

Genre: Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDB – 6.6/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore – 68/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Awards: None

Directed by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Written by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Music by: Chris Westlake

Cast: John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson

Film Locations:  Utah

Budget: $NA

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is a big-time drunk and a small-town ex-cop.  A small-town ex-cop because he is a big-time drunk. Riding shotgun, too drunk to drive, with his uniformed partner; occurring immediately before he becomes an ex-cop, in the wee hours of night, they pull over a car and the driver shoots and kills Mike’s partner.  Mike, because he was drunk, is thrown off the force and he sinks further into the bottle but truly believing the police will forgive, forget and hire him back.

Coming around from his nightly bender, Mike finds a badly bloodied girl by the side of the road. He rushes her to the hospital but she soon dies and the death is ruled a homicide.  Seeking redemption, Mike sets out to solve the murder, dragging his family, bartenders, hookers, pimps, grandfathers, and assorted none-too friendly cops along for his burlesque, but borderline professional investigation, into multiple gruesome murders.

The Nelms brothers have woven a fateful crime story worthy of the Cohen brothers’ The Big Lebowski or Fargo. Less comedic than Lebowski and less dramatic than Fargo but all three display the same irreverent contempt for criminals and their slapdash, albeit, serious and consequential, escapades.  The Nelms’ writing and directing are reminiscent of Dragnet’s Friday, just the facts — ma’am.  Watching the movie you wish they would develop some of the more interesting sub-plot lines but in the end the movie does just fine without the added knowledge or clutter.

The acting is superb.  John Hawks is masterful in delivery but he really pulls you in and along with his bumbling style and looks.  His appearance and his face are one with a character that has been on a multi-year drunk.  Gaunt and not too pretty he somehow succeeds in getting you to cheer for him no matter how much his bum nature comes into full gnarly view.

A fun movie, not too serious but captivating just the same.  A worthy addition to pulp fiction and film noir. Escapism with a style all its own.

Alone

High Noon (Theaters-1952; DVD-May 2004) Rated: TV-PG  —  Runtime: 84-85 minutesM High Noon 1952

Genre: Action-Drama-Suspense-Thriller-Western

els – 8.5/10

IMDb – 8.0/10

Amazon – 4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 8.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore – 89/100

Metacritic User Score – 8.4/10

Awards: 4 Academy, 4 Golden Globes

Directed by:  Fred Zinnemann

Written by:  Carl Foreman

Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin

Cast: Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly

Film Locations:  Burbank, Columbia State Historic Park, Iverson Movie Ranch, Jamestown, Tuolumme, Wanerville; all in California, US

Budget: $730,000

Worldwide Box Office: $8,000,000-18,000,000

Will Kane (Gary Cooper), a soon to be retired lawman from a small, quite, town of dusty streets in old west New Mexico, is getting married and taking his new Quaker wife (Grace Kelly) away for a fresh beginning in another town; to raise a family and run a store.  Moments before they are to leave they learn that Frank Miller, a convicted murderer that Kane and a local judge captured, convicted, and sent to prison has received a pardon from the governor. Miller is coming in on the noon train to settle the score. Waiting at the train station for Miller is his younger brother and two other shifty varmints, eagerly providing guns and muscle to back him up in his all-consuming quest for revenge.  Kane attempts to round-up a pose to face Miller and his gang, but all the town folk decline and insist, instead, that he leave town, a suggestion heartily supported by his pretty young wife.  Knowing that if he ran Miller would follow, Kane stays to make his stand now rather than later: alone.

A truly classic western filmed in black and white under Foreman’s spartan script and directed by Zinnemann in real-time at a parsimonious and fast pace.  The stark cinematography provides the tension inherent in the plot, always pushing the viewer onward to the next scene, straight ahead or around the corner.  The acting was absolutely first-rate.  Gary Cooper won a best actor Oscar for his efforts and had a supporting cast that included some of the greatest names in Hollywood; Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Eve McVeagh, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Morgan, and Lon Chaney Jr.  What a lineup.  Finally the movie included the legendary theme song Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’ aka The Ballad of High Noon written by Dimitri Tiomkin and preformed by Tex Ritter; a hardy but forlorn synopsis of the movie’s plot.

The film, when previewed for the press was greeted with derision.  Due to the critics proclaiming the movie a failure the producers decided not to release the movie.  Tiomkin then bought the rights to the theme song and released it with Frankie Laine singing the lyrics, becoming an immediate worldwide hit.  Because of the public’s  positive reaction to the song, the movie was released a few months later, eventually garnering Tiomkin 2 Oscars for movie’s theme song and score.

The movie, released in 1952, played in theaters during Korean War and McCarthy’s Red Scare: the hunt for communists in US government and private institutions, especially Hollywood.  The movie was, and still is, believed to be an allegorical expression of the downtrodden, the just David standing tall against the unjust and unproven allegations. Standing up to the Goliath known as Joseph McCarthy.  During this time being branded, with or without proof, by the scarlet, hot iron C of communism was the end of many careers in the US.  The movie tried to push back and with all things Hollywood, feigned righteous innocence.

Without, or maybe even with, the knowledge of the Red Scare, the movie today is seen more as good versus bad without the partisan grey over-prints.   The right and the small meeting the wrong and the mighty.  Fighting the good fight whatever the odds. Being small doesn’t make you weak.  Being alone doesn’t make you wrong.

 

Dishonorably Spent

Avenge the Crows: The Legend of Loca (Theaters-NA; Streaming-December 2017) Rated: TV-MA —  Runtime: M Crows 201796 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Thriller

els – 3.0/10

IMDb – 5.4/10

Amazon – 4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 5.0/5

Metacritic Metascore – NA/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by: Nathan Gabaeff

Written by:  Nathan Gabaeff

Music by:  Spencer Brock, Nathan Gabaeff

Cast:  Danay Garcia, Michael Flores, Cesar Garcia, Lou Diamond Phillips, Danny Trejo

Film Locations:  Los Angeles, US

Budget: $NA — Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Loca (Danay Garcia), is a down on her luck gangbanging, murdering, thieving, slutty, drug dealing, junkie with a bad temper.  She’s the movie’s protagonist, the champion, the heroine who screws everyone and everything just to become a little more amoral and mercurial than yesterday. She’s the object of a prison gang’s mysterious hit sanction, which she must defend herself and her innocent cousin against and, just to thicken the plot, she must outsmart and outflank a Mexican drug cartel and the opposing LA street gangs.  All by tomorrow.

This is  Nathan Gabaeff’s second effort as a writer and director, the first being the poorly received 2016 Boost, also featuring Danay Garcia and Danny Trejo.  Avenge the Crows is a low-budget film that comes across as being written and directed as an allegorical, non-judgmental documentary of gang life on the streets of LA, complete with flickering static and choppy breaks in the film.  The story is brutal and stupid, the violence and sex are cheap, bordering on pointless. Then there’s the dialogue capable of contradicting itself  in the same scene.  Garcia tells her cousin that it must be the RR prison gang that is responsible for stalking them and then in the next sentence tells her cousin that the gang has no Earthly reason to stalk them.  Well, which is it? How do you arrive at the conclusion that it’s the RR gang when you have no reason to suspect them.

There is some good acting in this movie, Phillips and Trejo, despite the screenplay and direction, but that doesn’t include Danay Garcia.  The women can’t act, but as long as she keeps taking her clothes off the money folks will keep casting her.

Gabaeff was able to pull in some of the most recognizable names in Hispanic acting; Garcia, Phillips, Trejo, for this low-budget movie.  I can’t fathom how he was able to convince these actors sign up for this stinking dog of a movie and, sadly, he has more of these losers in the pipe-line.

This is a movie about the worst of the human condition and its degrading impulses. It passes on declaring any judgement; moral, ethical, or legal; neither for nor against: pathetic.  The movie is artistically dead and morally bankrupt.

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