Friday, April 13, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: BRAVEN (2018); BEAST OF BURDEN (2018); and MOHAWK (2018)

(US/UK/Canada - 2018)

The surprisingly engaging BRAVEN doesn't pretend to be anything other than a formulaic action thriller, but it handles itself with such spirited gusto that it's easy to roll with what's basically ASSAULT ON LOG CABIN 13. Jason Momoa, best known as GAME OF THRONES' Khal Drogo, may be Aquaman but he has what's probably his best big-screen role yet as Joe Braven, a tough-as-nails logger with a heart of gold in a small, isolated Pacific Northwest town in the middle of snowy nowhere (the film was shot in Newfoundland). He's been running the family logging business since his dad Pops (Stephen Lang) has been suffering from accelerated dementia following an on-the-job head injury a year earlier. Pops has been pretty forgetful and sometimes fails to recognize his granddaughter Charlotte (Sasha Rosoff) and is prone to wandering into the town bar and causing trouble when he thinks random women are his late wife. The time has come for Joe and his wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner) to consider putting him in a home, and Joe wants to spend some time with Pops at the family cabin to discuss his care going forward. Once they arrive at the cabin, some problems arise: stowaway Charlotte snuck into the bed of Joe's truck and tagged along, and there's a crew of criminals led by ruthless drug lord Kassen (Garret Dillahunt as Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker) who arrive to retrieve a shipment of drugs stashed at the Braven cabin by one of Joe's dipshit drivers (Brendan Fletcher) who's been secretly hauling product for Kassen on his logging runs. Kassen makes it very clear that he wants his drugs and he's not leaving any of them alive when he's done, so Joe does what anybody would do: turn into an action hero and join forces with Pops, who drifts in and out of lucid, coherent thought, to protect the cabin, keep Charlotte safe, and take out Kassen's crew one by one.

Joe Braven is pretty adept with shotguns and a bow and arrow, and once she inevitably arrives looking for Charlotte, Stephanie is shown to be well-schooled in the ways of the crossbow. Yes, BRAVEN is the kind of movie where the good guys instantly turn into a family of John Wicks when their cabin is under siege, just like Kassen is the kind of bad guy who has to get pissed off and tell his flunkies "Enough...we're taking this cabin!" Except for a dodgy-looking greenscreen in the climax, veteran stunt coordinator and TV director Lin Oeding (CHICAGO FIRE, CHICAGO P.D.), making his feature debut, stages some occasionally wild and inspired action scenes when Joe starts unleashing hell on Kassen's guys (the bit where he hurls a flaming axe that lands in a guy's neck, then throws a jar of moonshine at him is pure PUNISHER: WAR ZONE). In a perfect world, BRAVEN would establish Momoa (also one of 26 credited producers) as a major action star, and his performance is quite good despite the silliness of the whole thing. Braven isn't a smartass and doesn't have any convenient witty quips at the ready. Momoa gets you on his side but plays it with just the right degree of gravitas to keep everything grounded. He's very good with young Rossof and he works well with Lang, one of our great character actors who gets saddled with too many junk movies to pay the bills. Pops is a difficult role that Lang handles beautifully. Watch the way he plays one scene where Pops traps one of Kassen's goons and drives a screwdriver into his lower jaw and up into his mouth. Despite the dementia, Pops' fight-or-flight kicked in but midway through forcing the screwdriver into the guy's jaw, Lang does this thing with his eyes where he conveys Pops was somewhere else and is only just then cognizant of the horrific act he's committing in self-defense. Of course, Lionsgate dumped BRAVEN on VOD with no fanfare and sure, there's nothing innovative about it whatsoever and I don't want to oversell it, but this is the kind of throwback, kickass, no-bullshit action movie that's impossible to resist and hugely enjoyable when done right. (R, 94 mins)

(US - 2018)

With indies like SWISS ARMY MAN, IMPERIUM, and JUNGLE, Daniel Radcliffe has made some intriguing career choices post-HARRY POTTER, but his attempt at an airborne LOCKE crashes and burns. LOCKE, which spent its entire 85 minutes inside a car with Tom Hardy, was a compact little suspense piece that also inspired last year's Netflix Original film WHEELMAN. Much like a copy of a copy losing its clarity, BEAST OF BURDEN is essentially DIPSHIT LOCKE, with Radcliffe as Sean Haggerty, dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for reasons we never learn, now working as a pilot flying drug shipments for a Mexican cartel. Sean's piloting a tiny, rickety, one-seater Cessna and he's constantly badgered with phone calls from his wife Jen (Grace Gummer, one of Meryl Streep's daughters), who thinks he's working for the Peace Corps; intimidating Mallory (Robert Wisdom), who represents the cartel boss; and Bloom (Pablo Schreiber), a DEA agent who's convinced Sean to rat out the cartel in exchange for new identities and medical coverage for Jen, who's just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Until the climax, when the story exits the Cessna and improbably becomes a murky chase and shootout thriller that requires the otherwise prepared and cool-under-pressure Mallory and Bloom to suddenly turn into careless idiots, BEAST OF BURDEN--basically LOCKE meets AMERICAN MADE--is largely a one-man show for Radcliffe, who mainly takes calls and grimaces as he pretends to fly a rickety plane through very inclement weather at night. This also means most of the film takes place in near-total darkness, which makes it hard to see what's happening on some occasions. The actor gives it his best shot, but there's just not much depth to Adam Hoelzel's script, as evidenced by a line from Bloom to Sean where Schreiber is actually required to say "You're a beast of burden living on borrowed time." The same could be said for Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt's time in Hollywood if BEAST OF BURDEN is any indication. (R, 90 mins)

(US - 2018)

Ted Geoghegan's 2015 feature debut WE ARE STILL HERE borrowed elements of THE FOG and displayed an affinity for the classic films of Lucio Fulci. It didn't exactly reinvent horror, but it was an anomaly in today's genre scene in that its focus was on middle-aged characters and was the kind of effective post-Ti West slow-burner that Ti West fans think Ti West makes. Geoghegan is back with MOHAWK, a complete misfire of a sophomore effort that has him regressing in every way. Set in New York in 1814 in the waning days of the War of 1812, the film tells a simple revenge/survivalist story that's hard to screw up, but does so anyway. A group of American soldiers led by Col. Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington) piss off the wrong Mohawk in Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn). She's a fierce warrior in a tribe that's adamantly remained neutral in the US and British conflict, and she's in a polyamorous relationship with fellow tribe member Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and British officer and arms dealer Joshua Pinsmail (Eamon Farren). Holt and his men start by attacking Joshua, but he's rescued by Oak and Calvin and the pursuit begins. They eventually capture and kill Calvin and then Joshua, and shoot Oak and leave her for dead. She experiences a vaguely supernatural reawakening, and of course, makes them pay with their lives. And your time.

The polyamory angle leads to exactly one interesting moment, when Calvin is being tortured and screaming in agony, and it's Joshua who insists on going back to rescue him while Oak tries to talk him out of it. What is the point of putting these characters in that relationship when it has no bearing on anything that develops? Is this a colonial survivalist thriller or a Dan Savage column? It's trying too hard. It's like Geoghegan said "I want to make a brutal, blood-splattered revenge saga, but I'm also woke." Has anyone watched BROKEN ARROW on Turner Classic Movies lately and thought "Yeah, this is good, but I could relate to it a lot more if Debra Paget was fucking Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler's Cochise?" Also, why is there an anachronistic, intrusive, throbbing John Carpenter-styled synth score in a War of 1812 movie? The entire project has a student-film amateurishness about it that makes it look like a group of LARPing fanboys took over an historical site for a couple of weekends and a made a movie. With the exception of Buzzington, who brings a sort-of off-kilter Stephen McHattie intensity to Col. Holt, the performances are all various degrees of atrocious across the board, with the actors making no effort to sound period appropriate at all. Horn is a dull heroine, though in her defense, Geoghegan and co-writer Grady Hendrix (whose recent Paperbacks from Hell, a non-fiction chronicle of all those great horror paperbacks of the 1970s and 1980s, is a fun read) keep her offscreen for too much time. There's one nicely-done PREDATOR-inspired bit where Holt's fey translator (Noah Segan, who's just terrible and wearing a bad Henry Jaglom hat, for some reason) crawls into a hole and Oak's eyes materialize behind him, but considering the promise Geoghegan showed with WE ARE STILL HERE, MOHAWK is an alarming step in the wrong direction, both in concept and execution. (Unrated, 92 mins)

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