REVIEW: Koneline Registers a Slow-Moving Disaster

A slow-burning documentary by Nettie Wild, Koneline: Our Land Beautiful depicts the simmering tensions in northern British Columbia between a population in a symbiotic relationship with nature and the disruptive force of mining companies.

While the impending conflict is a great motivator, Nettie Wild takes her time to show how mine construction upsets every activity in Tahltan territory. Even something supposedly benign as the power grid reaching further up the northwest is seen as harbinger of doom. “When people comes, wildlife disappears”, assess a hunting impresario accurately.

Most of Koneline’s interviewees are part of the community. In most cases, their livelihoods are at stake. Tahltan’s elders have organized a blockage, but there is dissension in the ranks and the strategy is not sustainable in time. The area is believed a world class gold deposit and mining startups are already punching holes all around.

The director makes two smart decisions in approaching the subject: Finds a sturdy narrative and allows it to unfold organically, even at expense of a traditional ending (to this day, the situation remains in flux). Also, the fact documentaries are visual constructs is never far from Nettie Wild’s mind. Eye-popping sequences like horses crossing a treacherous river populate the film and drive the message home.

It’s never in doubt on whose side the film is on. The government of British Columbia and Imperial Metals don’t do themselves any favors, the former by being noncommittal and the latter by showing an off-putting sense of entitlement (“we paid a significant amount of money” says an executive on camera, annoyed by the blockage). Without a decisive victory for one or the other side, it seems the conflict will go on, nature losing ground one transmission tower at the time. 3.5/5 planets.

Koneline: Our Land Beautiful opens this Friday 6th at the Roxy Theatre. On Wednesday the 12th, Nettie Wild will be doing a Q&A via Skype following the 7 pm screening.

REVIEW: Prevenge, or What You Don’t Expect When You Are Expecting

British filmmaker Ben Wheatley is making his mark not only through his nihilistic movies, but by influencing some of his collaborators. Chief of them all is Alice Lowe. The female lead in Wheatley’s most “accessible” film, Sightseers, Lowe does it all -writes, directs, stars- in Prevenge, a pitch black comedy that pushes the envelope further than you could possibly imagine.

Lowe is Ruth, a pregnant woman on her third trimester who goes on a killing spree. The targets are very specific (we slowly learn why), and Ruth is more or less methodical in her approach. She seems to be getting orders from her unborn baby, who despite having been surrounded by amniotic fluid since her conception, is very judgemental.

Prevenge moves at brisk pace, and allows plenty of humor among the carnage, mostly from the contrast between the presumably vulnerable Ruth and her actions. In spite of her doings, the protagonist remains sympathetic, as if her life wasn’t her own. Repeatedly, we get back to Ruth’s doctor who -unaware of her patient’s homicidal tendencies- pushes her to wrestle control back from the unborn baby.

While there is a clear method to the madness, Prevenge resolution is a notch underwhelming. That said, Lowe dots her I’s and crosses her T’s. The overall thoughtfulness indicates there is a future for the multi-hyphenate artist behind the camera. Three prairie dogs.

Prevenge starts streaming in Shudder on March 24th.

REVIEW: We Go On… For a Manageable 90 Minutes

For a low-budget genre flick, there are several things We Go On does right. It’s a self-contained film that doesn’t chew more than it can eat, features a true to life dialogue, and -above all- invests on a good cast, namely John Glover in a supporting role and the perennially underrated Annette O’Toole as one of the leads.

The plot: Crippled by phobias and fear of dying, Miles (Clark Freeman) comes to the conclusion the only way he can move on with his life is by having certainty there is something beyond the grave. He literally throws money to the problem by offering 30,000 dollars to the first person able to prove we go on (see what I did there?)

Predictably, Miles receives hundreds of answers, but only four capture his attention: An academic, a medium, an adventurer and a mysterious caller. Alongside his concerned mother (O’Toole), Miles goes on a supernatural tryout that may render undesired results.

The heart of the film is the relationship between Miles and his mom. In spite of the context, the two maintain a healthy rapport, which ups the ante. The top half slow-burning leads to a more traditional -if competent- conclusion. The denouement works with recognizable genre troupes, but still manages to provide a surprise or two.

Because We Go On is aware of its limitations, it doesn’t try for the ‘wow’ factor. It could have taken some risks and deliver some jolts, but overall, it’s a tidy endeavor. Two and a half planets.

We Go On is available on Shudder.

REVIEW: A Man Called Ove Is the Hidden Gem of the Oscar Race

In this year’s Best Foreign Language Film’s Oscar race, Toni Erdmann has the critics’ love and The Salesman locks up the controversy factor.

A Man Called Ove is more low-key than its peers, but it’s a better movie that’s worth of your attention.

(Oddly, it also got a second nomination: Best Make Up.)

The Ove in question (Rolf Lassgård, Wallander) is a cantankerous man on the verge of becoming a sexagenarian. Deemed redundant by the factory he has worked at his entire life and without his wife, Ove doesn’t have a good reason to go on.

But just as he’s adjusting the noose around his neck, a noisy Persian-Swedish family moves in next door. If there’s something stronger than Ove’s death wish, it’s the need to tell people off (think of a darker Curb Your Enthusiasm). Soon, the situation becomes a loop and every time Ove is close to meet his maker, we get a flashback that helps us understand the grumpy old man. Let’s just say he has been dealt a number of rotten hands through the years.

Besides lots of black humor, A Man Called Ove is a fun character study that shows the power of community and the benefits of diversity. The film may not be as cutting as the competition, but for sure is timely. Four planets.

A Man Called Ove opens today at the Roxy.

REVIEW: War on Everyone Is at Peace with Itself

Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Peña midst-War.

One of the most competent scriptwriters in the English language, John Michael McDonagh is guaranteed to be at least entertaining: The Guard gets a lot of millage from the contrast between a rowdy Irish cop and an uptight FBI agent; Calvary follows a priest under a death threat who discovers his entire congregation is just the worst. Just imagine a Coen Brothers movie in which the characters are not completely miserable.

War on Everyone brings McDonagh to America (New Mexico, the land of Breaking Bad) and the outcome is not half bad. The compelling, complicated characters are there, same as the crackling dialogue. The overarching plot falls apart half way through and yet remains more amusing than the similarly inclined The Nice Guys. Continue reading “REVIEW: War on Everyone Is at Peace with Itself”

Sadako v Kayako: It’s Not Easy Being a Ghoul

It’s ghost versus ghoul in this Japanese monster mash.

Given the outcome of other “versus” films (Freddy vs Jason, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), the idea of pitting two icons of Japanese horror felt equal parts enticing and worrisome. Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge are physically similar, not particularly expressive and don’t seem to share the same universe: One is a ghost, the other is a ghoul. Nuances, people.

Sadako v Kayako pulls it off. Instead of concentrating on the black haired spooks, the film uses two naïve school girls as audience’s surrogates. One of them watches the fateful Ring tape that all but guarantees her death, a mishap that sends the pair on a quest that gets the other J-Horror mainstay involved. The film has a sense of humor about itself (the idea of someone still using VHS tapes gets a lot of tracking, same as the uselessness of the experts who claim to know how the gruesome twosome operates), but remains firmly within the genre’s realm. Continue reading “Sadako v Kayako: It’s Not Easy Being a Ghoul”

REVIEW: Rogue One Is the Best Kind of Outlier

Jyn Erso, the hero we deserve.

While the return of the Star Wars franchise in the form of The Force Awakens was wholeheartedly welcomed, Chapter VII raised a few red flags. The similitudes with A New Hope were numerous and conspicuous, enough to encourage the perception that the new trilogy may end up being a remix of the original one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story benefits from this brewing problem by delivering the most original tale of the Rebellion since Jedi. Sure, the structure is videogame-like and the plot contrivances can be more exasperating than exciting, but the characters are edgier and their interactions are a lot spikier than what we have become used to. Continue reading “REVIEW: Rogue One Is the Best Kind of Outlier”

REVIEW: Doctor Strange’s Cold Medicine

Crusader, meet cape.
Crusader, meet cape.

After conquering with relative ease the earthly and interstellar realms, it’s time for Marvel to get mystical. The most obvious way to enter the most otherworldly of planes is through Doctor Strange, the only character of the ethereal branch to break into the popular subconscious (with the possible exception of Ghost Rider).

At first sight, Doctor Strange appears to be a risky bet for Marvel. The film is loaded with comic book arcana and introduces -quite literally- a whole new universe with its own rules and characters. Furthermore, Strange’s ties to the Avengers and their baggage are very limited, at least at this stage.

It is, however, a calculated risk. Strange follows the Marvel formula to a tee (Strange’s likeness to Tony Stark is particularly on the nose), and for safety’s sake, nearly every plot point but one has been leaked to the public. There are so few surprises in Doctor Strange, it feels like a rerun. Continue reading “REVIEW: Doctor Strange’s Cold Medicine”

Shoot the Messenger’s Elyse Levesque: SK Fostered My Creativity

elyse-levesque

A member of the accomplished generation of actresses born in Regina in the mid-eighties (a group that includes Tatiana Maslany and Amy Matysio), Elyse Levesque had already reached notoriety thanks to geek favorite series Stargate Universe. Now she is the lead of the new CBC drama Shoot the Messenger.

Roughly inspired by Rob Ford’s controversial tenure as Mayor of Toronto, Shoot the Messenger is anchored by Daisy (Levesque), a reporter with a nose for exclusives and messy personal life. A seemingly meaningless gang-related death leads her to a vast net of corruption, involving dirty cops, crooked politicians and unsavory characters.

Elyse Levesque relates to Daisy’s ambition and drive. “The character appealed to the darker side of myself”, the actresses confesses. Even though she is often cast in shows filming in Canada (Messenger, Stargate, Cedar Cove) Levesque is based in Los Angeles: “I work everywhere but the city I live in.”

– You have been cast in a number of TV shows. Do you have an inkling early on which ones will last?

– You never do. The industry is so weird, it’s really hard to predict. Stargate Universe was such a great show, great cast, we were confident we were coming back for a third season and found out that was not the case. It’s unfortunate, because you can get really attached to people and is hard to say goodbye. Now that I’m older I try to choose projects that I would like to watch and hopefully other people share my taste. Continue reading “Shoot the Messenger’s Elyse Levesque: SK Fostered My Creativity”

TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net

Trespass Against Us
Trespass Against Us

Trespass Against Us (UK, 2015): I would normally praise an A-lister for going back to his native land to do a cheaper movie, but Michael Fassbender is rather miscast in this mildly compelling drama. Fassbender is Chad, the second in command of a band of outlaws living in the forest. Chad is good at what he does and is one hell of getaway driver. He is also a family man and has slightly more common sense than his fellow thieves.

When it becomes clear his son is likely to end up as one of the inept criminals that surround him, Chad begins to consider the possibility of jumping ship. The only obstacle is his father (Brendan Gleeson), a powerful figure that keeps Chad under his thumb using putdowns and guilt-tripping.

It just takes one look at Fassbender to realize he is no shrinking violet, a detail that makes his character hard to swallow. He is not the only problem: Trespass Against Us often feels aimless, the premise is stretched over ninety minutes for no apparent reason. While we care about the outcome, the film could have use a rewrite and a less-chiseled star. Three planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net”