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Film Review: HOLLOW IN THE LAND (Canada 2017) ***

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Hollow in the Land Poster
Trailer

A woman with a troubled past sets out to find her missing brother.

Director:

Scooter Corkle

 

Written and directed by Scooter Corkle, this moody crime suspense thriller uses the backwoods of British Columbia as the new underbelly of the inner cities for the backdrop of the story.  The nearby town is a paper pulp town that prospered from the local timber industry.

When the film opens, a bar brawl has just taken place.  Brandon (Jared Abrahamson from HELLO DESTROYER) has to be bailed out of jail by his sister, Alison (Dianna Agron).  Alison tells him that she has had enough and cannot keep doing this, while Brandon claims he is doing his best.  This no win situation gets worse, when Brandon gets caught, in what has been described by the unsympathetic local sheriff (Michael Rogers) ‘in a mid-fuck’ by his girl’s father, whose body has just been found.  Brandon, who is now chief suspect goes missing.

Alison is not a liked character in the local town.  She is known to be having a same-sex relationship with Brandon’s girl’s mother.  Whether the lesbian relationship is necessary in the story is questionable, as there is enough already going on in the film.

If the story all sounds quite straight forward, the story is actually quite difficult to follow in the film.  For one, it is only a third through the film that it is revealed that Alison is Brandon’s elder sister. It is natural to assume that Alison is Brandon’s mother at the start.  It is then confusing if the affair Alison is having is with the girl’s mother or maybe the girl’s sister.  Other identities are also blurred.  One wonders if it is the intention of writer/director Corkle to keep the audience on their toes to decipher the story or if it is unintentional.  The time setting of the story is also left unclear.  There are clearly no cell hones used at all in the film, but one could argue that no one needs one in the backwoods.

Though HOLLOW IN THE LAND is a nitty gritty drama set in a male dominated town, it is more of a feminist film. Corkle is a Not only is the protagonist female, but the story leans towards the female in more ways that one – including the lesbian relationship and all the other strong female characters, which is good given the way females are so less represented these days in film.  (The director Corkle is male.)  But that does not mean that all the male characters have to be weak ones, like the characters of Brandon and their father (who is ono shown at the end, of the film, with one tooth missing.)

To director Corkle’s credit, the atmosphere of dread, terror and suspicion are effectively created in the moody film.  The audience is also kept on their toes from start to end, and the film builds to a satisfactory climax.  It also helps that Agron delivers a power-packed performance as the reluctant heroine.

HOLLOW IN THE LAND ends up a better than average atmospheric thriller with well developed characters that the director makes sure the audience cares for.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpVl6b9CsJA

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Film Review: JUST CHARLIE (UK 2017

Just Charlie Poster
Football star Charlie is a girl trapped in the body of a boy. Rejected by her Father and teammates will she ever play football again?

Director:

Rebekah Fortune

Writer:

Peter Machen

Film Review: BADSVILLE (USA/Canada 2016)

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Badsville Poster
A violent greaser gang is ripped apart when their leader finds love and is determined to leave Badsville – a town where love doesn’t exist.

Director:

April Mullen

 

BADSVILLE is about bad people in the town of Dodge.  The main character is a scary gang leader called Wink (Ian McLaren) whose mother has succumbed to cancer.  The mother makes Wink promise to leave town as it is a bad town.  Never mind a lot of the badness is Wink’s own doing.  With gang members like his (The Badsville Kings) especially his best friend Benny (Benjamin Barrett), who needs enemies?

The Badsville Kings enemy is the rival gang called the Badsville Aces, made even nastier by that gang leader’s father (Robert Knepper).

There is not much story in BADSVILLE.  It is a heart-felt gangster drama with older gang members that still behave like teens.  They try to let go of the past which somehow keeps creeping back into their lives.  Wink meets and falls in love with a local girl Suzy (Tamara Duarte).  The pleasure of the film is the film’s nitty atmosphere and watching the shady characters destroy each other.  Note that the film is no easy watch.  Most of the make-up in the film consists of doing faces with dried blood and fight scars.  The time of the film is not stated, but there are no cell phones, so one can likely say the film is set in the 60’s or 50’s.

The film contains a lot of anger.  One scene has Wink siting in his car banging the steering wheel and the roof for a full 2 minutes.  If not anger, the characters are wallowing in self-pity.  Wink’s girl spends time explaining how she should be felt sorry for with her sob story of her mother and drunken step-father.  Not that the audience really cares or made to care.

The real mystery of the film is why Will just doesn’t just leave town instead of just moping about it.  Just do it!  

If Will and his Badsville Kings gang are not beating each other up, they are either bashing up other gang members or fucking their girlfriends.

One of the film’s flaws is the main character, Will which the audience is supposed to be sympathetic with.  But the actor playing him is 59, and really creepy looking with slick hair, an over-wide smile and tattooed fingers, besides having a good body.

BADSVILLE also contains dialogue that is corny at best.  Wink to Little Cat: “I made a promise, we have to keep promises.  I want you to make a promise.  To Leave Town!  There is no love in this town.”

The plus in this film has is its nitty-gritty atmosphere.  BADSVILLE is a male dominated world where violence, sex and hate persists.  It is surprising that the film was directed by a female, April Mullen (BELOW HER MOUTH, REAL DETECTIVE) – to her credit!  Despite it being a Canadian/American co-production, the film was shot largely in L.A. and in the U.S.

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

 

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Film Review: LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES (CANADA 2017) ****

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La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes Poster

 

Chosen as this year’s Canada’s Top 10 films of the Year, the Quebecois film LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES receives a deserved run this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is a strangest of all the 10 films and rightly so because the novel (by Gaétan Soucy) it is based on is indeed a strange one. This novel was chosen for inclusion in the French version of Canada Reads, broadcast on Radio-Canada in 2004, where it was championed by actor, film director, screenwriter, and musician Micheline Lanctôt.

The story is about two siblings who live in complete isolation with their father. They are both his “sons”.  One day the father kills himself by hanging and his sons decide one of them needs to go to the nearby village to get a coffin.  While in the village it is unveiled that the one son is actually a female although she has no idea of that (she has no idea of sexuality and thinks she was castrated when she was very young and that is why she doesn’t have testicles). It also become apparent she has been being used for sex by her brother and eventually becomes pregnant with child.

The film takes certain liberties with the novel and director Lavoie changes a few things to make it more believable.  Lavoie lets the audience know from the beginning that one of the siblings is a girl and not a boy.  This is a wise decision as the actress playing the part looks more feminine than masculine despite the male clothes and short hair.  The father only hangs himself at the 30 minute mark of the film.  The evil things that go on are revealed while the father is alive while he has a part to play in them.  In the book the girl thinks she was castrated while in the film, she is told by her father that her pee-pee dropped off when she was a child.  Her Prince Charming in the film is a land surveyor for the government and not a mine inspector.

The story is a dark one.  Twists in the plot show up every 15 minutes or so, and they are not for the better.  But the girl is strong willed and able to resist her brother, the villagers and her unknown fears.

The film is even creepier with the existence of the unknown monster kept in the shack outside the main house.  Who or what is this creature?  Director Lavoie teases the audience, led to believe at first that it would be the siblings’ mother. 

The film is a worthy and well plotted adaptation of the novel.  Wisely shot in black and white with choral music in the soundtrack to give the film a Gothic look, the film captures both the creepiness and innocence of the girl in the story.  A  disturbing film undoubtedly due to its theme, but indeed a Top 10 Canadian film of the year! 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rcH8cJ-PGo

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Film Review: FOREVER MY GIRL (USA 2018)

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Forever My Girl Poster
Trailer

After being gone for a decade a country star returns home to the love he left behind.

Writers:

Bethany Ashton Wolf (screenplay), Heidi McLaughlin (novel)

 

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Film Review: 12 STRONG (USA 2018)

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12 Strong Poster
Trailer

12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban.

Director:

Nicolai Fuglsig

Writers:

Ted TallyPeter Craig | 1 more credit »

 

There are two kinds of action hero movies – those based on comic book or fictional heroes and those based on real life ones.  Warner Brothers Studios have done well on both fronts, the latter with Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER standing as the best example. 12 STRONG tells the true story of 12 American heroes who took on major Taliban targets after 9/11 that possibly prevented other attacks on the United States.  (February also sees the upcoming WB real action Clint Eastwood movie The 15:17 TO PARIS.)

Based on the non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and adapted for the screen by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, 12 STRONG the film tells the declassified true story of the Horse Soldiers made up of CIA paramilitary officers and U.S. Special Forces i.e. the US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) sent to Afghanistan on October 16, 2001.  The Americans, 12 in number join forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to help conduct unconventional warfare against Taliban forces.

The 12 are led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), a character inspired by Mark Nitsch.  Among the 12 that the script pays attention to are his Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon) and Sergeant Sam Diller (Michael Pena).  The others are given little to say or do but to show their faces in the action scenes.

The film does not contain much plot except to illustrate the difficulty and accomplishment of the mission.  The state of New Mexico stands in for the sandy and rocky landscape of Afghanistan.  The atmosphere looks convincing enough.  The battle segments with too much artillery and gunfire make the real enterprise a little too gung-ho.

Good intentions aside, the film contains some preposterous moments, the most obvious being the climatic scene with the American (Captain Nelson) on horseback leading the Afghan Alliance.  (Really?) “He is charging, follow him,” says an Afghan and then comes the glorification of America.

The best thing the film achieves is placing the audience in a totally foreign atmosphere and educating in what is involved in an almost impossible successful mission.  The audience sees the 12 all gung-ho, angry at 9/11 and wanting revenge to do their best for their country.  But when the film first shows them dumped into foreign territory in the dead of night, with practically no knowledge or bearings, one can tell that heroics is often just in the mind waiting for a reality wake-up call.

The film necessarily has to go through the cliched process of showing the soldiers with their loved ones before and after the mission.  Wife and kids are upset at them while the soldiers have made up their minds to put duty over family.  Of course, the promises that “I will come home!” are uttered and made, regardless of reason.

The film obviously displays the real 12 in a photograph at the closing credits.  The film also mentions the monument of the 12 in a statue that stands in NYC.  For a film based on true events with the fact that all 12 survived, it still looks too implausible.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Denciie5oA

 

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Film Review: DEN OF THIEVES (USA 2018)

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Den of Thieves Poster
Trailer

A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.

Writers:

Christian Gudegast (screenplay), Christian Gudegast | 1 more credit »

 

DEN OF THIEVES is a bank heist action thriller complete with shoot-out, car chase and suspenseful robbery execution, the kind that was popular in the 70’s but is seldom seen on the screen these days.  It is written and directed by German American Christian Gudegast, whose German roots can only be noticed at the end of the film when Gerard Butler curses: “F***ing Fraulein!”

DEN OF THIEVES stands out from the typical bank heist caper as it shows two sides of the coin – the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s elite unit and the robbery crew, with about equals screen time divided between the two.  The former is led by ‘Big Nick’ (Gerard Butler) while the latter by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber).  But Merrimen is sure no Robin Hood.

Whose side will the audience take?  When the film starts and the heist planning gets under way and then the execution, it is human nature to root for the robbers, to want them to succeed – especially when the voiceover explains how impossible a heist in L.A. is.  But Gudegast also has Nick utter the words to one of his suspects: “We are the bad guys. We don’t arrest criminals.  We kill them and do the paperwork after.”

Gudegast’s film is by no means perfect but it has it pleasures.  In fact, it is really easy to pick out what is wrong with the film and to dismiss it as total rubbish.  But on the positive side, Gudegast creates a very credible nitty-gritty atmosphere where life seldom, if ever turns out right.  At times, it feels like one is dunked in porn culture, from the strip joints, cheap restaurants and other shady stores (3 suits for $100) that the characters frequent.  But the climax leaves much to be improved.  The shoot out scene on the highway with cars back to back is hardly realistic when one cannot see any bystanders or drivers in the stalled vehicles.  The cops keep shouting to the drivers, stay down, stay down, but when an overhead shot pans the tops of the cars, no person can be seen unless they have really stayed down perfectly low horizontally.  The twists in the plot (not to be revealed in this review) is also explained sloppily in flashback.  There is a clumsy scene set in a London pub, where Donny suddenly spawns a British accent.  The film runs too long at 2 and a quarter hours.  Though one could com pain on the slow segments, these segments actually provide a good breather for the audience to catch their breathe and evaluate the past proceedings.  The insertion of Nick’s family problems is also clumsily insetted, just to provide sympathy for the protagonist.

Butler is ok in his DIRTY HARRY role but it is O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Donnie who steals the show.

The first third of Gudegat’s film works better than the other two thirds with the climax a complete letdown.  But the first third is actually pretty good and an effective and absorbing bank heist planning.  The conclusion is that the flawed film achieves its promised good nitty-gritty atmosphere with some suspenseful moments.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKd_ks0rdAM

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