IT'S A DISASTER
(US - 2013)
(Canada - 2013)
Shot in 2011, this wildly uneven and frequently heavy-handed Canadian thriller runs the gamut from sincere drama to sleazy exploitation and is effective and trite in almost equal doses. Set in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia, the film finds disgraced First Nations boxer and ex-con Avery (Glen Gould) hired by Ava (Jennie Raymond) to rescue her younger, junkie half-sister Jan (Amanda Crew) from the clutches of a pair of drug pushers. Avery quickly infiltrates their drug den in the seedy "Charlie Zone" slums and rescues Jan, but gets more than he bargained for when people show up to kill her. The people Ava represents are indeed not Jan's "parents" at all but a pair of contract killers hired by Ava to make Jan, and Avery by association, disappear for reasons that will form a bond between the two outcasts as Jan tries to start her life over and Avery finds protecting her as a path to redemption.
Like most of the cast, Gould (who projects a very Danny Trejo persona here) has logged a lot of time on various Canadian TV shows (only Crew seems to have cracked the US market extensively, co-starring in SEX DRIVE, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD) and handles himself well when the material permits it. Plausibility isn't one of CHARLIE ZONE's strong suits (what exactly is it about his past as a boxer that makes Avery an ideal undercover bounty hunter?), and you'll realize Avery is being duped long before he does. It's structured very much like a TV-movie throughout, only with copious F-bombs and hard-R violence, and the too-tidy climax feels like the wrap-up of a LAW & ORDER: SVU episode. CHARLIE ZONE is an odd little film, almost like director/co-writer Michael Melski couldn't find a specific focus and threw in a little of everything: we spend a lot of time with the drug den shitbags long after they're no longer pertinent to the story, and there's a rush to cram in elements of Avery's past when we meet his grandfather (Agumeuay Nakanakis) and ex-girlfriend (Cindy Sampson) that he walked out on years ago. There's also some embarrassing dialogue along the lines of Avery telling Jan "You've got me in your corner now." CHARLIE ZONE tries to accomplish too much, can't settle on a tone, glosses over some seemingly important details, and could've benefitted from more sure-handed direction, but Gould and Crew do some good work throughout. (R, 103 mins)
THE BIG BAD
(US - 2012)
This very low-budget Long Island-shot indie horror film was somehow picked up for VOD release by Phase 4 last year, though it's hard to believe this ever made it beyond the festival circuit. A dreary, ugly, and molasses-paced revenge thriller/werewolf movie, THE BIG BAD draws obvious parallels to "Little Red Riding Hood," but transplanted to a modern setting, largely in a dive bar called The Big Bad. Red-headed Frankie (screenwriter Jessi Gotta) is after an elusive werewolf named Fenton Bailey (Timothy McCown Reynolds), who slaughtered her family and happens to be her ex-stepfather. Frankie loses an eye in the process, allowing Gotta and director Bryan Enk to pay homage to THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (there's also a JAWS-inspired scene with Gotta and lesbian lycanthrope Jessica Savage comparing scars), and eventually has her showdown with the big bad wolf, but man, what a tedious movie. It's shot through the kind of hazy filter that ABC uses on Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, and Enk is far too reliant on pointless shaky/jump edits that try to make it seem "edgy" or "grindhousey" but instead make it look like a VHS tape with tracking issues. The werewolf makeup is surprisingly OK, but otherwise, THE BIG BAD isn't particularly clever, well-written, or original, the performances are community theater-level at best, it feels hours longer than it is, and it isn't the least bit enjoyable as a thriller, a horror movie, or an homage. It looks like a bunch of friends got together and had all the equipment and software necessary to make a professional-looking home movie. I'm sure Gotta and Enk are nice kids and everyone has to start somewhere, but this is just terrible. (R, 78 mins, also available on Netflix streaming)