NEWS


Some of the most impressive first features are those that don’t appear to be first features at all – that, instead, seem like the work of a seasoned pro who commits fully to familiar material, and somehow reinvigorates clichés and conventions. “Braven” marks the directorial debut of Lin Oeding, a veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director whose credits run the gamut from high-end studio projects (“The Equalizer,” “Inception”) to guilty-pleasure genre pastiches (“The Baytown Outlaws,” “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”), so it’s hardly surprising that the fight scenes and run-and-gun clashes here are brutally efficient and efficiently brutal. What is unexpected is Oeding’s confidently unhurried, no-sweat approach to introducing characters and connections, and his straightforward, almost aggressively non-flashy attentiveness to such niceties as spatial relationships and cause-and-effect details during the rough stuff. If Don Siegel or John Sturges had lived long enough to try his hand at a VOD-centric melodrama, it probably would have looked and sounded a lot like this one.

Taking a break from his ongoing gig as Aquaman in the DC Extended Universe, lead player (and producer) Jason Momoa credibly dials it down to the level of blue-collar hero as Joe Braven, the hands-on owner-operator of a rural Newfoundland logging company that evidently is less than diligent when it comes to vetting employees. Joe is a cheerfully loving husband to Stephanie (Jill Wagner); a playful parent to their young daughter Charlotte (Sasha Rosoff); and an increasing worried protector of Linden (Stephen Lang), his aging father, who has been edging into dementia ever since he survived a serious workplace accident, and now has a bothersome habit of getting into barroom brawls with the husbands of women he mistakes for his late wife.

Of course, since this is, after all, a VOD-centric melodrama, you can rest assured that Joe will face far more demanding challenges than deciding whether to institutionalize dear old dad. Fairly early in “Braven,” it’s revealed that Weston (Brendan Fletcher), one of Joe’s delivery-truck drivers, moonlights as a drug courier by transporting bags of heroin along with the logs. When Weston and Hallet (Zahn McClarnon), his partner in crime, skid off the road during a nighttime snowfall, they opt to hide their stash in Joe’s secluded hunting cabin — conveniently located near the accident — before inquisitive cops show up. It seems like a good idea at the time.

The next day, however, when Weston and Hallet return to the cabin with Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), the drug kingpin whose stash has been stashed, and a few armed minions, they find Joe and Linden have trekked out to the cabin to spend some quality time together. Nothing good comes of this.

To their credit, Oeding and screenwriter Thomas Pa’a Sibbett don’t try to “explain” Joe’s resourcefulness and resilience by making him a retired Special Ops soldier or CIA hit man. Rather, they define Joe as a relatively ordinary guy who’s driven to extremes (and forced to improvise lethal weapons) to defend himself, his father, and — yes, they have no shame in this regard — little Charlotte, who surreptitiously came along for the ride. There’s more than a hint of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” in the scenes that depict Joe’s DIY approach to warding off home invaders with metal rods, hunting bows, red-hot tongs, and anything else he can scrounge in the cabin. For his part, Linden provides cover from his upstairs vantage point, and even takes a few good shots, with a scope-equipped hunting rifle. But the movie keeps us from ever feeling too secure in regard to the old man’s capabilities with sporadic reminders that, well, he’s not entirely sentient.

“Braven” remains exciting and suspenseful even after Joe vrooms out of the claustrophobic cabin setting on an ATV, triggering a manhunt in the snow that further illustrates Oeding’s ability to choreograph action in clear, clean fashion. And that action is all the more involving because the freshman filmmaker gives his actors sufficient time to flesh out their characters before the bullets (and arrows) start flying.

Momoa neatly balances physicality, vulnerability and unpredictability in a performance that recalls his standout work in the underrated Sundance TV series “The Red Road,” while Lang’s vivid portrayal of a lion in winter is potently charged with alternating currents of angry pride and fearful confusion. Individually and collectively, they make the father-son bond arrestingly compelling. In one scene, Linden pointedly reminds Joe that he turned the logging business over to his son, and more or less guilt-trips Joe into insisting he would never, ever, put his dad in his home. At that point, it stops being a scene, and simply is.

Fletcher effectively plays the drug lord Kassen as a self-styled martinet who clearly enjoys giving orders and cracking heads; you get the feeling that he leads the raid on the cabin not because such an action is necessary, but because he really enjoys acting like he’s the general of an invading army. Wagner capably rises to the challenge of conveying that, when push comes to shove, Stephanie can be just as tough — and accurate — as her husband. And even though McClarnon (another “Red Road” alum) has only a secondary role, he once again indicates, as he has in the cable series “Longmire” and “The Son,” that he has sufficient screen presence to steal any scene that isn’t bolted to the floor.

The lensing by Brian Andrew Mendoza is exceptional, and the score by Justin Small and Ohad Benchetrit enhances moods without ever overstating the obvious. To put it simply and gratefully: “Braven” is the sort of unpretentious yet thoroughly professional popcorn entertainment that brings out the best in everybody involved.

By Joe Leydon

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RLJE Films has acquired all U.S. rights to Vaughn Stein’s noir thriller “Terminal,” starring Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Mike Myers, Max Irons, and Dexter Fletcher.

The deal with Highland Film Group was announced on Wednesday, a day after Robbie received an Academy Award nomination in the best actress category for her role in “I, Tonya.” Robbie is also a producer on “The Terminal,” as she is on “I, Tonya,” through her LuckyChap Entertainment production company.

RLJE Films plans to release the movie in theaters in the spring. Written by Stein, “Terminal” follows  two assassins carrying out a sinister mission, a teacher battling a fatal illness, an enigmatic janitor, and a curious waitress leading a dangerous double life. Murderous consequences unravel in the dead of night as their lives intertwine at the hands of a mysterious criminal mastermind.

Besides Robbie, the other producers are Tom Ackerley, who also produced “I, Tonya,” and Josey McNamara under their LuckyChap Entertainment banner, David Barron of Beagle Pug, Highland Film Group’s Arianne Fraser, Molly Hassell, and Teun Hilte.

Robbie also stars as Queen Elizabeth I opposite Saoirse Ronan in the upcoming historical drama “Mary, Queen of Scots,” which is slated for release by Focus Features on Nov. 2.

Mark Ward and Jess De Leo from RLJE negotiated the deal with CAA and Alana Crow at Highland Film Group on behalf of the filmmakers.

By Dave McNary, Variety

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EXCLUSIVE: As the AFM gears up, Highland Film Group has boarded worldwide rights on Josh Hartnett-starrer Gut Instinct. Directed and written by Daniel Roby (Versailles), the crime thriller also stars Antoine-Olivier Pilon (Mommy).

Based on a true story, the film follows an investigative journalist (Hartnett) who unravels a twisted entrapment case wherein a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, Daniel (Pilon), is forced into a dangerous drug deal and then sentenced to 100 years in a Thai prison. As Daniel endures torture and abuse, the journalist must track down the undercover cops benefiting off the conspiracy, while also fighting to set him free.

Gut Instinct is produced by Andre Rouleau and Valerie d’Auteuil of Caramel Films in association with Roby as executive producer. Goldrush Entertainment and Highland Film Group are also exec producers.

Highland’s AFM slate also includes Shawn Ku’s action thriller A Score To Settlestarring Nicolas Cage. Other pictures in the lineup are John Moore’s The Manuscriptstarring Morgan Freeman; Berlin, I Love You with Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jim Sturgess, Mickey Rourke, Diego Luna, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey and Jenna Dewan Tatum; Vaughn Stein’s Terminal starring Margot Robbie; and Scott Mann’s Final Score starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan.

-Nancy Tartaglione

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First Point and Goldrush Entertainment will produce.

Nicolas Cage will topline A Score to Settle, an action thriller from director Shawn Ku.

A Score to Settle follows a convicted mob enforcer (Cage) battling a terminal illness. When he is released from prison many years after taking the fall for a crime he didn’t commit, he sets out on a path for revenge against the people who wronged him.

Lee Clay will produce for First Point Entertainment and Eric Gozlan will produce for his Goldrush Entertainment banner.

Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier are executive producing via Highland Film Group, which will introduce the project to international buyers during the American Film Market.

Cage, who was last seen in TIFF Midnight Madness selection Mom and Dad, is repped by CAA, LINK and Patrick Knapp at Bloom Hergott. Ku is repped by Paradigm, Field Entertainment and Morris Yorn.

-Mia Galuppo

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Principal photography has begun on the third instalment of the Escape Plan action franchise starring Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista and Max Zhang.

Highland Film Group handles international sales on Escape Plan: 3: Devil’s Station and Lionsgate will distribute in the US. The action thriller sees the return of on-screen security experts Stallone as Ray Breslin, Bautista as Trent DeRosa, Jamie King as Abigail, and Lydia Hull as Jules.

The Escape Plan 3 cast includes Zhang, Tyler Olsen, Devon Sawa, Harry Shum Jr, and Malese Jow.

The story picks up as Breslin and DeRosa join forces again to rescue one of their team members held captive at the penitentiary known as Devil’s Station.

John Herzfeld directs from a screenplay by Miles Chapman and John Herzfeld. Emmett/Furla Oasis co-CEO’s Randall Emmett and George Furla return as producers alongside Mark Canton of Atmosphere Entertainment, Zack Schiller of Boles/Schiller Film Group, and Jie Qiu and Echo Su.

Filling the executive producer roles are Barry Brooker and Stan Wertlieb of Grindstone, Robert Jones and Wayne Marc Godfrey of The Fyzz Facility, Ted Fox and Mark Stewart.

Leomus co-finances, as it did on the first two films.

 – Jeremy Kay
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