Film Review: LEAVE NO TRACE (USA 2018) ***

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Leave No Trace Poster

A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living in an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.


Debra Granik


Debra Granik (screenplay by), Anne Rosellini (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »


LEAVE NO TRACE is another strong female character drawn adventure drama after her successful WINTER’S BONE.  Written and directed by her and based on the book My Abandonment by Peter Rock, the film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.[2][3] Bleecker Street will release the film in the United States on June 29, 2018.[4]

The summarized plot tells the story of a father and his thirteen-year-old daughter .  Will (Ben Foster) is an ex-military who has lost his faith in humanity for reasons not disclosed.  When the film opens, he and daughter Tom (Thomasin McKEnzie) live in an isolated existence in a vastly urban park in Portland, Oregon, (the film was shot in Eagle Fern Park in Clackamas County) when a small mistake derails their lives forever.  They are taken in by social services.

The film contains several embedded messages.  The first and foremost is the question on homeschooling.  Will and Tom live an isolated existence at the film’s start, living in conditions unacceptable by normal Americans.  Tom sleeps in close proximity with her dad.  Though this is a no-no, nothing sexual occurs.  To is home schooled.  When interrogated about this, The interrogator admits that Tom is advanced in her schooling though cautioned that she lacks the social aspect of education.  But director Granik eventually pushes Tom towards normal life which she has not experienced.  Tom loves the social and interactive aspect as they are slowly integrated into society.  Until Will escapes with Tom back to square one.  When an Will has an injury, Tom is forced to choose between the two lifestyles.

LEAVE NO TRACE is Granik’s gentler more accessible film.  There is much kindness depicted in this movie than in WINTER’S BONE.  The truck driver and other strangers that encounter Will and Tom are always more than eager to help them.  

Both actors Ben Foster (THE PUNISHER, X-MEN) and Thomasin McKenzie deliver believable an human performances, worthy of any audience’s sympathy.

As far as anticipation goes, one keeps wondering where everything is leading to and how everything will end.  One can predict some friction between father and daughter when she makes her stand on independence. “The same thing that is wrong with you is not wrong with me,” is the all important line Tom confronts Bill with.  And the reply; “I know.”   The film moves on a different tangent when the father is an understanding and caring one.

The film contains a few originally performed songs with original music by Dickon Hinchliffe.  The cinematography of the vegetation and fauna of the national parks is effectively captured by Michael McDonough.

LEAVE NO TRACE is that rare film that proves that confrontation in a story need not always be resolved by shouting, screaming and cheap theatrics.  Here, the confrontation is resolved with reason and understanding.  And the film succeeds as a quiet yet effective drama of human inadequacies that sort themselves out.



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Movie Review: Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

warcraft.jpgWARCRAFT (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Duncan Jones

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell

Review by Gilbert Seah

The phrase ‘based on a video game’ should scare serious movie goers from this CGI blockbuster extravaganza. Based on the Blizzard Entertainment Warcraft series which consisted of 5 core games, this film is actually based just on the first one. WARCRAFT is set in the human Kingdom of Azeroth, threatened by an Orc invasion before Azeroth was expanded into new continents of Kalimdor, Northrend and Pandaria, allowing the introduction of new characters like the Night Elves.

The story in nutshell involves humans fighting against the Orcs as they invade through a portal. The battle lasts from the start to the end of the film. There are several main characters, humans and good Orcs to distract audiences from a basically non-existent story.

The Orcs come from another world called Draenor to invade Azeroth. The warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel) fights for his king (Dominic Cooper) who relies on the suspicious Guardian, Medivh (Ben Foster) who has taken to the dark side, and is responsible for opening the dreaded portal. Meanwhile, the young warlock Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) lands a hand. The Orcs are led by an evil Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), that a good Orc chieftain recognizes should be stopped. The characters help to liven the video game movie up several notches.

The film is best watched in IMAX 3-D – forget the small extra cost. It is difficult not to get into the action on a film in 3-D IMAX. The special and video effects, production design by Gavin Bocquet) and costume design all look the more convincing. This is director Duncan Jones blockbuster directorial debut after making small films like MOON and SOURCE CODE.
I entered the screening with the lowest expectations after all the bad hype about the movie. But truthfully, WARCRAFT is not bad. It is better watching an expensive blockbuster that is difficult to make than a well reviewed low budget film with maybe just two characters. On has to give credit for effort put in.

WARCRAFT ends with the obvious set-up for a sequel. Judging from other critic reviews so far, WARCRAFT has been panned. But for video game fans, this might be the fun film summer has promised. The film has already made $45 million in China on opening day breaking all records for a weekday opening day. So it looks like a sequel will likely be in the making with Night Elves.

See WARCRAFT for what it is – guilty entertainment with super special CGI effects. And Remember – to see it in 3-D IMAX.

Movie Review: THE PROGRAM (UK/France 2015)

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the_programTHE PROGRAM (UK/France 2015)**
Directed by Stephen Frears

Starrting: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman

Review by Gilbert Seah

Lance Armstrong is infamous the world over. The recent documentary on his disgrace THE ARMSTRONG LIE had informed the world of his demise, and now the fictionalized version is ready to do more of the same. Lance Armstrong (played by Ben Foster) is an American cyclist who won the Tour De France 7 years running. He entertained controversy of his taking performance enhancing drugs (particularly EPO in short). He denied it totally and the world believed him. But after his comeback after a 4-year break, a fellow team member, Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons) confessed to his and Armstrong’s taking of EPO. The Tour De France stripped Armstrong of all 7 wins.

THE PROGRAM is understandably a French/British co-production as Armstrong obviously not only disgraced himself but the county he represented. THE ARMSTRONG LIE was made and shelved when the disgrace hit the news 3 years later, but released after Armstrong appeared on Oprah.

THE PROGRAM of the title refers to the drug program enforced by the French Doctor, Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), who was eventually banned from practice after word came out of his abuse. When Armstrong realized other cyclists may be using performance enhancing drugs, he begged the doctor to put him on the program at all costs.

It is surprising that Frears and the script by Jon Hodge sees so little time on the Irish reporter, David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) who uncovered the truth of the story. The film based on Walsh’s book “Seven Deadly Sins’ spends minimum time, showing the reporter’s work and quiet after Armstrong put him to shame. But when he was eventually proven correct, his triumph is just dismissed with the fact that the Sunday Times got their money they initially paid as damages to Armstrong back. Dustin Hoffman, credited in the film also has a one-line scene.

Armstrong is an extremely dislikable man. He shows no humility, is proud and obsessive and full of himself. A film that centres on a lead character with such a personality is obviously going to run into problems. Audiences disliking the lead will most likely dislike the film as a result. Director Frears who has in his carer made some excellent films (PHILOMENA, THE QUEEN) seems at a loss with the character of Armstrong. In his previous films that dealt with unsavoury characters like the pregnant teenage daughter in THE SNAPPER and homosexuality in MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, Frears used humour and satire to make his movie work. But in THE PROGRAM, Frears uses none of these tactics. He tells the story of the ARMSTRONG LIE in a straight forward story-telling convention. Using standard formulaic biopics story-telling, he charts the rise to fame, and slow downfall of the cyclist, highlighting his winning moments to lift the spirit of the story.

There is absolutely no need to watch another version of a disgraced human human being. Armstrong describes himself as a champion. But in reality he is one who has disgraced the sport and a spineless worm with no conscience. The documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE has already told the same story and extremely well by Alex Gibney (ENRON, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE), with the real Armstrong as himself using actual footage of himself at the race without any re-enactments. At least Frears shows him, as the worst person that can be, still trying to convince the world of his ability.

The end credits predictably showing each of the featured characters in real life from Armstrong, to the doctor that enforced the drug program re-enforce the fact that Frears seem to be gnu through the motion with this one.

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