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last update 30.Aug.10
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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Between Something & Nothing
dir Todd Verow|
prd-scr Jim Dwyer, Todd Verow
with Tim Swain, Julia Frey, Gil Bar-Sela, Amy Dellagiarino, Mara Kassin, Francisco Solorzano, Jorge Suquet, Jonathan Horvath, Robert Axel, Ari Myrtai, Brad Hallowell, Todd Verow
release US May.08 nf,
UK 9.Aug.10 dvd
The prolific Todd Verow continues to develop himself as a filmmaker, but still needs to overcome serious narrative weaknesses that leave this biographical drama feeling somewhat fragmented. But there's enough in here to make it worth a look.
Joe (Swain) moves from Maine to Providence to attend art school, immediately meeting friendly street hustler Ramon (Bar-Sela) and helpful kleptomaniac Jennifer (Frey). While Ramon introduces him to a rather useful money-earning profession, Jennifer helps him cope with their eccentric teachers by stealing enough booze to keep them tipsy. Juggling his studies with the sex trade doesn't seem to be too difficult, except that he starts to fall for Ramon, who insists that he's straight despite evidence to the contrary.
As usual, Verow draws on biographical elements to tell an intriguing story with realistic characters and situations (this is essentially a sequel to Vacationland). But the script and direction undermine every step, with corny dialog, annoying narration and Verow's usual aggressively clunky filmmaking style, with its unfocussed plot, uneven sound mix and intrusive electronic score. He also indulges in a preachy, superficial obsession with casual drug use and sexuality.
For a filmmaker who's clearly trying to push boundaries, he's goes weirdly shy at any hint of sex, which is ridiculous since it's a central theme of this story (the only nudity is a life-drawing model and the only depiction of sex is pretty nasty). Meanwhile, he merrily portrays drug use, shoplifting and general seediness as relatively harmless. He also lets his cast get away with some dodgy acting, although at least the central characters are believable, even if we never have any sympathy for them.
This is especially problematic in the awkward sex-and-drugs climax, which isn't remotely tense and struggles to find its emotional tone. Verow's photography and editing are improving, but he still can't generate momentum either within scenes or as a connected narrative. This is partly because he's so squeamish, trying to be bold and controversial but ducking away from anything truly honest or edgy while being moralistic and cautionary at every turn. That said, he does manage to draw some moving resonance in the final act that brings the story together.
18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs, violence|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Burning Bright |
dir Carlos Brooks|
scr Christine Coyle Johnson, Julie Prendiville Roux
prd Mark Amin, David Higgins, Cami Winikoff
with Briana Evigan, Charlie Tahan, Garret Dillahunt, Meat Loaf, Mary Rachel Dudley, Peggy Sheffield, Tom Nowicki, Preston Bailey, David W Scott, Andy Ussach
release US 17.Aug.10 dvd,
UK 6.Sep.10 dvd
10/US Lionsgate 1h22
Despite the essential silliness of the premise, there's a simplicity to this gritty little thriller that makes it utterly gripping. And it's also remarkably terrifying when it needs to be.
Kelly (Evigan) is still reeling from her mother's suicide, which left her in charge of her young autistic brother Tom (Tahan) and derailed her plans to go to university. And their stepdad Johnny (Dillahunt) isn't helping, spending their savings to buy wild animals to turn the family's Florida homestead into a safari lodge. His latest purchase is a very hungry Bengal tiger. And when a hurricane rolls in, Kelly and Tom find themselves locked in their home. With the tiger.
Yes, there are a few implausibilities in the set-up, which sees the house's doors and windows boarded up (for the storm of course) and Kelly's mobile phone rendered useless. It also seems a bit of a cheat that the real villain is a human being. But the house is big enough that we almost believe Kelly and Tom could hide from this ravenous creature, and their inventiveness goes a long way in letting us accept the far-fetched premise.
It also helps that Evigan gives such a strong performance, blending physicality with mental steeliness. And her interaction with Tahan feels genuine. Tom is a boy who can't bear to be touched, so has to be coaxed along in creative ways. Meanwhile, Dillahunt is effectively slimy, and the scene-setting Meat Loaf cameo is perfect. But the filmmakers' real stroke of genius was to use a real tiger, as a digitally animated one simply wouldn't have added the same level of intensity.
As a result, some scenes are almost unbearably scary. This is achieved through an imaginative use of photography, editing and performance. The film never flags at all; the peril is palpable, as is the threat of real violence, even though there's isn't much gore. This film really should be seen with a cinema full of squealing moviegoers. Alas, it's being released straight to DVD, so you'll have to recreate the experience at home: lights down, sound up, popcorn ready to throw in the air...
15 themes, violence, language|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Pornography: A Thriller
dir-scr David Kittredge|
prd Sean Abley
with Matthew Montgomery, Pete Scherer, Walter Delmar, Jared Grey, Dylan Vox, Larry Weissman, Nick Salamone, Steve Callahan, Akie Kotabe, Wyatt Fenner, Rasool Jahan, Jon Gale
release US Jun.09 fff;
UK 30.Jul.10 dvd
Moody and atmospheric, this darkly insinuating drama unspools in three segments that never quite resolve to tell the whole story. Needless to say, this is more than a little annoying. But there are intriguing themes and scenes along the way.
In 1995 Manhattan, a sleazy producer (Salamone) offers pornstar Mark Anton (Grey) a special job, which he reluctantly takes for the cash. He's never seen again. Some 14 years later, New York writer Michael (Montgomery) stumbles onto the case with some supernatural help and along with his boyfriend (Delmar) starts investigating what happened. Finally, gay porn star Matt (Scherer) thinks that making a film about Anton's life will let him finally move into directing.
Aside from the overarching interest in Anton's story, the three chapters are essentially independent, although the characters blur between them, with actors sometimes popping up in different roles. Kittredge ambitiously builds a stylish, sombre tone that's clearly inspired by Cronenberg and Lynch, as well as the Saw movies - a satanic-type symbol on a ring, hints about a "new boyfiend" who doesn't need to know anything, a disembodied voice giving orders.
The result is dense and intriguing, but it's also completely overwrought, weakened by its lack of real-life humour and its fear of honest sexuality. It's also one of those films that deliberately obscures its plot so we are unable to work it out. While many scenes are provocative and riveting, they sometimes seem comically pretentious. Much better is the always-excellent Montgomery, who adds some badly needed off-handed authenticity as a journalist documenting the history of gay porn. And Scherer adds some terrific California bravado tinged with just a hint of self-doubt.
At least Kittredge is trying something new here. Along the way, there's an intriguing exploration of the reason people like porn, the nature of desire, the need to see something new, and the difference between vintage porn and today's blander on-screen sex. And Kittredge draws clever lines between the three stories, even if it sometimes feels a bit unoriginal (there are rather a lot of mysterious envelopes). He also seems to think that seeing a penis on-screen is the be all and end all, which kind of undermines everything else.
18 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
dir-scr David Oliveras|
prd Larry Allen, Penny Styles McLean
with Tye Olson, Kyle Clare, Ellie Araiza, Casey Kramer, Jeffrey Lee Woods, Karen Black, Greg Louganis, William C Mitchell, Ian Rhodes, Edward Finlay, Brandon Lybrand, Bobby Rice
release US 22.Jan.10,
UK 27.Aug.10 dvd
This sensitive drama is a solid feature debut for filmmaker Oliveras, who finds raw honesty in the performances of his young cast. He also refuses to simplify the big issues the story grapples with.
Danny (Olson) is a geeky teen artist who lives with his mother (Kramer) and is taken aback when the cool jock Carter (Clare) moves in briefly while his dad (Woods) travels for work. These two very different guys are surprised to find a deepening friendship. Danny develops a crush, which Carter playfully encourages until he realises that he returns the feeling. But of course they can't be seen as friends at school. And Carter also has a dark addiction to various chemicals that both enhance and inhibit his performance on the swim team.
The story is framed by a present-day scenario in which the adult Danny (Rhodes) finds his relationship with his current boyfriend (Finlay) strained by memories of his experiences with Carter. In other words, we know from the start that something will go wrong in the main story, although Oliveras throws us off by hinting at so many possibilities: drugs, family troubles, school issues, homophobic violence. Clearly something terrible is coming that will mess up Danny's ability to form a healthy relationship.
Frankly, this present-day aspect is unnecessary, as it's too thinly fleshed out to be meaningful. Much more interesting is the interaction between the young Danny and Carter, which is especially well-played by Olson and Clare. These two young actors authentically portray their teen passion and angst, and the way they relate to each other has a realistic hesitance that makes their chemistry all the more believable.
Less effective are the adult actors around them, who struggle with some pretty clunky dialog. Black is the best of the bunch, of course, as Danny's supportive art teacher. But the well-cast Louganis, as Carter's swim coach, never develops a credible personality. And Kramer and Woods don't get the chance to flesh out their melodramatic roles. Fortunately, the film isn't really about them; it's about the teens, and Oliveras has a keen ear for youthful dialog as these two kids come to grips with some pretty intense truths about who they are.
15 themes, language, violence|
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall