Film Review: SURVIVAL BOX (USA 2019)

Survival Box Poster
Seven teenagers. Five months. Twenty feet underground. No exit. The gripping story of a handful of high school kids trapped in a wealthy Philadelphia family’s backyard bunker.

Director:

William Scoular

SURVIVAL BOX opens with radio announcements of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II, the Cuban missal threat and the North Korean and President Trump threat of who first push the red button (or the bigger red button).  From the film title, anyone without any prior knowledge of SURVIVAL BOX can guess what is going to happen next in this awful low budget Canadian disaster (literally) flick.

Some kind of nuclear explosion has eradicated the planet.  A group of 7 has made it by chance to a SURVIVAL BOX, a nuclear bunker and living with sufficient food, water and air (again by chance) for 300 or so days before the radiation dies down.  What happens during these days make the story and the film.

The group of 7 happen to be teens at some party or other.  They decide to party it up privately in the wealthy family’s nuclear bunker when the nuclear disaster occurs and the exits of the bunker are automatically locked.  

There are countless reasons SURVIVAL BOX fails to engage.  Among the reasons:

  • the story contains too many coincidences for credibility.  For one the timing of the disaster with the timing of the party;  the availability of food, water and air for survival and the readily apparent anti-radioactive suits that can be worn to venture to the outside
  • nothing much happens after the group of 7 are trapped.  The 7 have to sit through the 300 or so days.  The audience has to sit through 90 minutes of boredom.  Who will break first?
  • the teens are terribly annoying,  They bitch and argue half the time.  The teen actors are not convincing either.
  • one of the girls delivers a baby.   Really?  Teens suddenly manage to deliver, feed and clothe a baby.
  • the teens go about without having to do the nasties like the number 1’s and 2’s.  The males do not have beards after being down there for months and the girls’ hair do not grow longer either
  • nothing much is shown of the outside but the winter landscape of some countryside depicting the nuclear fallout
  • the romance of a couple during the nuclear fallout creates even more problems on the film’s credibility
  • the inane dialogue is also awful  After girl hit a girl hard on the head, he says: “I am sorry.”  “OK.  All is forgiven,” comes the response.

Despite all the faults, the production values are impressive and the low budget film does look good in both the interiors and exteriors.  At one point in the film, there is talk on ‘functional democracy’.  But nothing much else is heard of the matter.

The clichéd line used in already too many thriller or horror films is heard one again in SURVIVAL BOX.  “We will get through this.”  The same question could be asked to the audience whether they can get through this cliched teenage version of an end of the world post apocalyptic survival story.

Trailer: https://www.tribute.ca/trailers/survival-box/25410/

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Film Review: ANGELIQUE’S ISLE (Canada 2018) ***

Angelique's Isle Poster
Angelique’s Isle is a harrowing tale of perseverance and survival that unfolds during the great copper rush of 1845, when newlyweds ANGELIQUE, a young Ojibway and CHARLIE, her voyageur … See full summary »

Writers:

Michelle DerosierJames R. Stevens (based on novella “Angelique Abandoned”)

Premiering back in 2018 and screened for free at the ImagiNative Film Festival, ANGELIQUE’S ISLE, an entertaining indigenous story and period piece finally gets a commercial run.

The setting is 1845 during the copper rush.  Times are changing – retrospectively.  Fur trade is down and fur trappers have to search for an alternative for of living.  So faces the problems of Charlie Moss and his working buddies.  The film begins with Charlie’s marriage to an indigenous woman before an offered job which he takes on due to the hard times with his new wife in tow.

Angelique, a young Anishinaabe woman (Julia Jones), and her voyageur husband Charlie (Charlie Carricj) are abandoned on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale by a corrupt copper hunter (Aden Young).   Granny initially advises her not to go but Angelique replies: “He is my husband.”  The newlywed couple have been left with few provisions and as the winter sets in they begin to starve.   With Charlie beginning to demonstrate strange behaviour, Angelique – a devout Christian – struggles with her faith and must rely on the teachings she received from her grandmother (played by Tantoo Cardinal, who appears to be in every single indigenous film sees days) in order to survive the harsh winter.  Angelique’s Isle is a harrowing tale of perseverance and a testament to the resilience and strength of Indigenous women.   The story is based on the novella “Angelique Abandoned”, a true story of Angelique Mott. 

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer, Celiana Cardenas.  The winter on Angelique’sIsle is indeed beautiful though harsh for human beings.  One look at the winter there and one immediately feels for the unfortunate couple who have been abandoned there.  The couple have nothing and no provisions. Angelique eats bark and when spring finally arrives, the wild berries she finds and grinds.  One thing that looks odd is the interior of their hut which looks too cosy to be real.  

The reason for Charlies’s descent into madness is never clear explained.  If he goes mental, why not Angelique?  Again, this is yet another film that testifies to the strength of the female.  One can also appreciate the love the couple for each other.  It is truly a wedding bond for better or for worse, which in this case is for the worse.

The suffering of the couples appreciated but is toned down several notches for the audience.  There are no nasty scenes of violence or suffering.  As such, ANGELIQUE’S ISLE comes across as a family film, with a little warning regarding certain scenes, but it is a handsomely mounted Canadian Indigenous tale of hardship and survival.

ANGELIQUE’S ISLE won 3 awards at the American Indian Film Festival.  It won for Best Picture, Best Actress (Julia Jones) and Best Supporting Actress (who else but Tantoo Cardinal?)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWNlZyPweP0

Film Review: TOUCH ME NOT (Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/France 2019) ***

Touch Me Not Poster
Together, a filmmaker and her characters venture into a personal research project about intimacy. On the fluid border between reality and fiction, Touch Me Not follows the emotional journeys of Laura, Tómas and Christian, offering a deeply empathic insight into their lives.

Director:

Adina Pintilie

TOUCH ME NOT, filmmaker Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear–winning first feature is a brave and raw look at bodies, intimacy, and empathy, exploring the private lives and sexual desires of four people with an approach that blurs the line between fiction and documentary. Moving seamlessly between erotic clubs and closed-door reflections, TOUCH ME NOT is a self-assured journey into the intimate lives of Laura, Tómas, Christian, and Grit. 

Not an easy watch as well as opening windows into a world of those who dare to break with social conventions and access the hidden aspects of their sexuality, the film revels in a space where anyone — no matter the obstacle — has the possibility of touching their inner rebel. In what feels like galaxies beyond the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Touch Me Not invites one to start as a tabula rasa and TOUCH ME NOT opens this transcend all previously imagined limits. 

Within protective spaces that are entirely free of judgment, Adina Pintilie and her protagonists explore new perspectives on human relationships, and we, as viewers, are challenged to question our own self-knowledge and continue our journey of self-discovery beyond the cinema in our everyday lives.

In the middle of the film the one subject, Laura has a session with someone that could be described as a healer.  He talks about being in a good space and energy and such.  For those who like myself who do to believe in stuff like new age energy and healers, this section along with a whole lot more in the film will be difficult to take in.  Laura says: “I do not understand how I have come to reach at this point.  Or maybe I have forgotten.”  The healer then says:  I will touch you now.”  At this point in the film, myself and many others would have given up oaths mumbo-jumbo.  My background is engineering and science and it takes incredible patience and effort to each this film, which looks totally pretentious, unplanned and irrelevant.

On the positive side, the experiences of a few characters in the film resonate with raw emotions.  A man who has lost his blond hair when he was young relate the difficulty of undergoing the experience from being a cute boy to a weird one.  In one experiment, he touches a disabled male with his eyes closed.  This is a difficult scene to watch.  The disabled male gos on total about the pleasure of his sexual experience being born different.

Whether one likes or hates TOCUH ME NOT, one thing is for sure in that the film, which could be described as porn disguised as art opens ones eyes (to put it mildly) to the sensation of touch and sexuality.  But the film leads nowhere as to were all the studies or leading or whether anyone has gained from the examinations.

TOUCH ME NOT opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with a Q&A session with its director Adina Pintilie on Friday August 23 at 830pm.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HyzgnKceP0

Film Review: READY OR NOT (USA 2019)

Ready or Not Poster
A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

From a script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy READY OR NOT is a horror black comedy directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett that serves to amuse but ultimately disappoints.  An example of a film that closest follows READY OR NOT is Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 CLUE based on the board game.

READY OR NOT (the phase conned from the game hide-and-seek) follows Grace (Aussie Samara Weaving), a young bride who joins her new husband Alex Le Domas (Canadian Mark O’Brien) and his rich, eccentric family led by the patriarch (Henry Czerbny) and the mother (Andie MacDowell) playing a game of deadly hide-and-seek, where her in-laws attempt to find her before dawn.   Grace is ‘it’.  The other members of the family are to find her.  The family are armed with an assortment of weapons like pistols, rifles and crossbows, the latter who many are still experimenting its usage.  When she realizes that the Le Domas family intends to hunt and kill her, she turns the one-sided hunt into a free-for-all, with everyone fighting for their survival.  As Alex goes against his family to help her, Grace discovers that the night is part of a diabolical ritual.  Why the ritual?  The reason given is that if the new member of the family is not killed by dawn, then each member of the family will be killed or destroyed instead by some form or other.  The ritual has worked in the past.  But this time around, it might not owing to Grace’s  resourcefulness.

The concept of READY OR NOT sounds solid but there is difficulty in translating it to film.  One flaw is the script which is little too ambitious to be credible on screen.  There are two twists in the story towards the end (which will not be revealed in this review) but both quite predictable.   It also takes quite a bit to believe what s happening at the end, as the film has nothing supernatural about it except during the ending.   The script is also limiting as it concerns family members playing hide-and-seek which means not many opportunity for many to be killed in a violent or gruesome way.  The only means the family killers are killed off in the film are by the weapons accidentally going off.

READY OR NOT, a low budget film looks more expensive on screen.  The film was shot mainly in Oshawa, a town close to Toronto with a cast of a number of Canadian actors including the roles of the groom and father.  The film should easily cover its cost in box-office receipts.

READY OR NOT ends up a little amusing time-waster though aspiring but never achieving the giddy heights of deliciously wicked horror-camp like the Italian Gallo films popularized by Dario Argento (OPERA, SUSPIRIA, BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE).

READY OR NOT has a Wednesday opening like many horror films and should pull in a decent box-office sum.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtYTwUxhAoI

Film Review: ANGEL HAS FALLEN (USA 2019)

Angel Has Fallen Poster
Trailer

Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of the President and must evade his own agency and the FBI as he tries to uncover the real threat.

Director:

Ric Roman Waugh

Writers:

Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay by), Matt Cook (screenplay by) | 5 more credits »

ANGEL HAS FALLEN is the third instalment of the FALLEN series of films following 2013’s OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and 2016’s LONDON HAS FALLEN.  The films follow United States Secret Service agent Mike Banning played by Gerard Butler saving the President for nay harm as his personal bodyguard/agent.  The President was played by Aaron Eckhart in the first two films and replaced by Morgan Freeman in this last venture.  If one has not heard of the FALLEN series, it is not surprising as the films were not that memorable.

Director Ric Roman Waugh appears to believe the notion that sequels have to be louder bigger and more of everything but not necessary better.  What the film lacks compared to other action flicks like martial-arts choreography of car chases is more than made up in the department if pyrotechnics.  There are lots of fire power (weaponry of assorted types) and explosions including one big massive bombing of a huge hospital, the St. Matthew’s.

The plot involves Mike Banning who must race against time to clear his name after being framed for an attack on the US President, Allan Trumbull.  Hence the title ANGEL HAS FALLEN as agent Banning is regarded as the President’s guardian angel who seemingly has fallen from grace.  After the events in the previous film, Secret Service agent Banning finds himself framed for an assassination attempt on President Allan Trumbull.  Pursued by his own agency and the FBI, Banning turns to unlikely allies to clear his name and uncover the real terrorist threat.

The unlikely ally in the story is Mike’s father, Clay (Nick Nolte, still recognizable under all that beard) who has had a falling out with his son and now living like as hermit and very strange person (as Nolte is, in real life).  Clay has ammassed a whole lot of explosives in order to protect himself and property, which is another excise for lots of pyrotechnics.  

ANGEL HAS FALLEN appears to follow all the rules of action filmmaking.  There is a showdown between villain and hero at the film’s climax where the two fight to the death in hand-to-hand combat.  Included is the national concern of the Government employing private syndicates to do its dirty work instead of the military which is less transparent to the people.  The President is updated to a African American and he has good heart and wishes the best for the country.  The hero is connected to family.  He has served well his country in the past and suffers from past injuries such as insomnia and migraines from his previous work.  Yet ANGEL HAS FALLEN is predictable being so formulaic in its determination to be a hit.  The film also runs a lengthy two hours with so much firepower and explosions that the action set-pieces look lacklustre and dull.  There is nothing here that audiences have not seen before and louder and bigger do not necessary make it better.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi1869200409?playlistId=tt6189022&ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: SPICE IT UP ( Canada 2018)

Spice It Up Poster
Trailer

A film student struggles to complete her thesis project.

Directors:

Lev LewisYonah Lewis | 1 more credit »

Writers:

Lev Lewis (story), Yonah Lewis (story) | 1 more credit »

Directed by Lev Lewis (The Intestine) and Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas (co-directors of Amy George and The Oxbow Cure), SPICE IT UP is about a young filmmaker making her first film done as a tongue-in-cheek odyssey about the discouraging obstacles encountered by independent filmmakers.

Film student Rene (Jennifer Hardy), struggles to complete her thesis project — a piece of straight-faced, GoPro-shot absurdity about seven female friends who try to enlist in the Canadian army after they fail to graduate from high school.  To her discouragement, she finds her work dismissed or ignored by everyone she shares it with, including her own professor (Adam Nayman – Toronto’s film critic who happens to also teach film at Ryerson University, Toronto as depicted in the film), whose notes are less than inspiring.  Jumping between the ensemble-based film-within-a-film about friendship and teamwork, and the framing story of the lonely plight of its creator.

SPICE IT UP definitely has a documentary filmmaker’s look about it.  It feels that the film is directed by the protagonist Rene, while in reality the film is directed by three different people.

This is a film within a film.  Famous directors in the past have made films about their experiences in filmmaking resulting in their best works.  Francois Truffaut directed and played a film director himself in the Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film LA NUIT AMERICAINE (English title: DAY FOR NIGHT), Federico Fellini directed bis masterpiece 81/2 with Marcello Mastroianni playing a young film director while the most recent ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is Quentin Tarrantino’s excursion on the filmmaking process during the hippie era.  It seems odd that the directors’ early film would tackle such a project that involves all the intricacies of creating a film – all of which comes with experience while making many, many films.  It is clear that SPICE IT UP turns out a little simple in its outlook on how to create a film.  Unlike the Masters’ works in filmmaking, all the information about making a good film appears to be textbook material, as advised by the Adam Nayman character in one scene where he, playing a film processor gives Rene advice on her film – create a stronger lead character instead of using 7 actors; engage a stronger narrative etc.  These words are echoed by a film editor who offers identical advice to Rene.  “Do you want me to got down and get dirty?” the editor asks Rene at one point whether he has permission to snip up her film.  In short, Rene is advised to SPICE  IT (her film) UP!

The answer to the last question would be a definite no, if one asks the opinion of the audience watching this film.  SPICE IT UP is Rene’s own film despite flaws and all and destroying it would seem nothing short of criminal. 

SPICE IT UP ends up a quiet little film that would turn out more intriguing  to cineastes.  This kind of small Canadian film would not have a release if it were not be for the TIFF Bell Lightbox and its programmers who give little films like SPICE IT UP a decent chance.

The film has its surprises and flaws.  One surprise is Rene’s professor who appears again at the end.  Nayman is hilarious as the pompous professor dishing out advice to Rene without realizing that he had watched the wrong film.  The part of Rene discovering her past unfortunately leads nowhere and serves as a distraction.

There is a Q&A (you already missed it!!) moderated by the said Adam Nayman in the film on Friday, August 16 at 8:30pm with the film’s three directors at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4189080/videoplayer/vi558676761?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: KIDNAPPING STELLA (Germany 2019)

Kidnapping Stella Poster
Trailer

Snatched off the street and held for ransom, a bound and gagged woman uses her limited powers to derail her two masked abductors’ carefully laid plans.

Director:

Thomas Sieben

KIDNAPPING STELLA is a remake of the British neo-thriller J. Blakeson’s 2009 THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED where a young woman is kidnapped by two ex-convicts, one of them her ex-boyfriend.  The original had superlative reviews especially in the acting category though it did not make much at the box-office.

KIDNAPPING STELLA is a Netlflix original film from Germany but a remake of the above described British film with a few changes.  The film still fails to deliver in either the thriller or drama mode.

As the film is playing on Netflix, viewers have the option of watching it in the original German version with subtitles or dubbed English.  The former is definitely then preferred choice as the dubbing is bad with the mouth synching and the words clearly out of place.

Kidnapping films often have as a subplot the Stockholm syndrome where the kidnapped falls in love with the kidnapper.  The opposite is true for KIDNAPPING STELLA.  A  woman named Stella (Jella Haase) daughter of a wealthy businessman is kidnapped by the men.  The two men are opposites in personality – obviously for a film script to be more workable.  In the original British version, the men are called Vic and Danny.  In KIDNAPPING STELLA Danny is renamed Tom.  One wonders at this odd choice of changing one name and not the other.  The synopses of both films are very similar, which goes to prove that  it is the making of the movie and not the story that makes the big difference.  It is interesting to note that ALICE CREED’s director Blakeson co-wrote the script with KIDNAPPING STELLA’s director Sieben.  Vic (Clemens Schick) is a vicious unsympathetic monster apparently the brains of the kidnapping while the other, Tom (Max von der Broeben) is a kinder more fumbling man.  When the latter allows Stella to go do a number 2, she unmasks him and Stella is shocked to find the unmasked her former boyfriend.  Apparently, they had a falling out of a relationship.

KIDNAPPING STELLA is nothing really exciting or entertaining.  The suspense is lacking.  The script contains false alarms like the threat of cutting off Stella’s finger when the father refuses to pay the ransom, but the threat is never realized.  One wonders the reason how these two men so different decide to come together to do the job.  When the trust between them breaks down, the story bears more credibility.

Though a German film, there is nothing specific that makes the film German.  It could be set in a any other country in the world, thus making the suspense thriller generic and less interesting.  The original was shot in the Isle of Man.  The film picks up a bit during the last 30 minutes with the story taking a few twists and turns.  

The acting is nothing short of spectacular and each actor appears to be just going through the motions.

There is one final twist at the end of the film but unfortunately by that time, no one really cares what happens.

The film has recently opened two weeks back and is still playing on Netflix.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIWdZvd3oGU