Tag Archives: Shiloh Fernandez

Land of Old Tropes

Mob Land

by Matt Weiner

Stop if you’ve heard this one before… good-hearted, small-time criminals get caught up in a web of violence and forces far beyond their control, with a dash of social commentary and vague nods toward the senselessness of the universe and fate.

Mob Land, the feature film debut from Nicholas Maggio, could at a distance be mistaken for any number of neo-noirs it borrows heavily from. Strong, silent Shelby Conners (Shiloh Fernandez) relies on what work he can get—legal and otherwise—to support his family in rural Alabama. When his brother-in-law Trey (Kevin Dillon) comes up with a plan to rob a local pill mill, Shelby tags along as wheelman.

Both men of course end up over their heads and soon have to tangle with the ruthless New Orleans mob outfit that runs the clinic, as well as local law enforcement, headed up by a sheriff who exudes “too old for this” with each gruff word.

When it comes to showing its influences on screen, Mob Land is as unlucky as Shelby and Trey. The movie has the guts to take from more incisive forebears, and it’s hard not to make running comparisons. It’s also hampered by a script from Maggio that always feels right on the cusp of making a point about its characters and the hands they are dealt. But here again, it lacks the follow-through to turn its stars into more than the slightly off-discount versions of the brand name version.

The dialogue and character choices are likely too great for any ensemble to overcome, but Mob Land has brief flashes of a world where a less restrained pastiche might have worked. John Travolta’s performance as the tired sheriff is reserved to the point of redundancy. It serves mainly as a reminder that he deserves to find the right vehicle for this stage of his career.

But it falls to Stephen Dorff’s mob hitman Clayton as the prime example of how Mob Land stretches out the seams of the influences it wants to inhabit. Clayton is the AI output of an Anton Chigurh text generator. An unstoppable force with questionable morals who speaks almost entirely in empty aphorisms for the whole movie, Dorff tries valiantly to add dimensionality to the part. That it almost works is a testament to the actor, whose eclectic filmography belies how good he is in the right part.

Story aside, credit to Maggio as a director. Along with cinematographer Nick Matthews, Maggio elevates the film’s limited settings to deliver a believably lived-in southern noir. As by-the-numbers as much else seems, Mob Land takes an effective approach to the creeping dread and violence that tear apart Shelby’s world.

These touches aren’t enough to salvage the film, but they do keep it from being outright bad. Worse, Mob Land is mostly forgettable, perhaps the greater sin for a noir. There are echoes of the poverty porn of Hell or High Water, and more than a few heaping doses of the Coen brothers.

It’s all thrown together too haphazardly, and with little room left for Mob Land to have something to say of its own that we haven’t already heard before.

Girl Gone


White Bird in a Blizzard

by George Wolf

Ready for a pulpy mess of lust and mystery? Gregg Araki’s White Bird in Blizzard serves it up with mixed results, buoyed by another terrific performance from Shailene Woodley.

Woodley is Kat, a 17 year-old high schooler in LA. It is 1988, and just as Kat is blossoming into womanhood, her mother Eve (Eva Green) is withdrawing into a bitter, vindictive drunk. When Eve suddenly vanishes, Kat appears unconcerned, even while her father Brook (Christopher Meloni) is reporting the disappearance to police and hanging “missing” flyers all over town.

Kat’s boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), her two best friends (Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato) and her therapist (Angela Bassett) all try to comfort her during the stressful time, but Kat insists she is fine. Frequent, vivid dreams about her mother suggest otherwise.

Director Araki, who also wrote the screenplay, adapts Laura Kasische’s novel with wildly shifting tones, anchoring the film with the solid portrayal of a sensitive young woman while surrounding her with surreal dreamscapes and over-hyped dramatics.

We hear a marriage described as “a lone drink of water from a frozen fountain,” and watch a character walk slowly away before turning on heel to proclaim, “I will tell you one thing’!” amid set-pieces bursting with kitsch.

And there’s Green, in manic Mommie Dearest mode, vamping it up in skimpy attire for her daughter’s boyfriend, then leaning back to release a condescending guffaw in her husband’s face. Green’s performance is can’t-look-away hypnotic, even as it crashes headlong into her young co-star’s authenticity.

Woodley continues to show the chops of a future Oscar winner, and she makes Kat’s complex emotions ring true, no matter what noir trash is going on around her. As Kat screams “What is wrong with you? Are you insane?” at her mother’s antics, the outburst cuts deeper than it has a right to.

The erratic flashbacks and anticlimactic ending add to a temptation to the label the entire project as simply amateurish, but Araki’s resume (Mysterious Skin/Kaboom) suggests otherwise. He’s got a vision for White Bird in a Blizzard and he sees it through in so many ways, some of them can’t help but feel right.





Like Visiting an Old, Very Very Bloody Friend

By George Wolf

Back in ’the early 80s, a low budget horror flick called The Evil Dead got an unexpected boost from legendary author Stephen King. His  public endorsement thrust the obscure title into the spotlight, and on its way to cult status among horror fans. Evil Dead 2 followed in ’87, and then Army of Darkness in ’92. While the series grew increasingly campy, the original story of a deserted cabin, stupid kids and a certain book of the dead remains iconic.

It gets new life with Evil Dead, and fans that have been chomping at the bit will not be let down. The camp is long gone, replaced by solid writing and surprisingly steady direction. Oh, and blood, lots and lots of blood.

Director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, in his feature debut, isn’t concerned with Stooge-worthy splatter . His reboot lovingly reworks Sam Raimi’s tale, eliminating nearly all the humor but absolutely none of the bloodletting. Did I mention it’s bloody?

The film puts more backstory and character development in the mix, but the core remains. We find two couples and one sister holed up in an old cabin, but this time David (Shiloh Fernandez, a bit weak), his girlfriend and his buddies are there to help his sister Mia (Jane Levy, from TVs Suburgatory, in a fantastically gritty performance) quit her drug habit.

Though it’s impossible to pick out the contributions of each of the screenwriters updating Raimi’s script, certain elements – like this back story – scream of Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult, Jennifer’s Body), as an ingenious concept gives the film potential subtext by way of an unreliable narrator. Is this reality, or is Mia just insane and detoxing?

Solid writing and Alvarez’s gleefully indulgent direction allow the film – not only a remake, but a remake of a film that tread the overworn path of “cabin in the woods horror” – to remain shockingly fresh.  This is thanks in part to a handful of inspired tweaks, a couple fine performances, and a fearless but never contemptuous eye for carnage.

From the super-creepy opening sequence, Alverez’s update announces its fondness for the source material and his joyous aspiration to stretch that tale to its fullest, nastiest potential. He also shows a real skill for putting nail guns, machetes, hammers, electric meat slicers, hypodermics, even your standard bathroom mirror to fascinating new uses. Bloody, bloody uses.

It’s a quick, intense ride, but don’t be in a rush to leave the theater. For fans of the series, there’s a little gift at the end of the credits.

Bloody good fun!

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