Dark Meridian, written directed by Rankin Hickman

It has been said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Suspenseful and engaging, Rankin Hickman’s film, Dark Meridian creeps up on you and keeps you in its grip for the entire journey. Set in New Orleans, the world is one of crime and not so neatly defined roles, because even criminals have rules and “codes of honor.” This criminal world is predictably karmic but not as clearly polarized as it may seem. One can easily be led to believe most things are black or white without the benefit of all the necessary details. We first see a man who has been injured dragging himself across the floor. This man is Detective Spencer Solano (James Moses Black) a crooked cop connected to Tevi Merek’s family (Dave Davis) and the underbelly of the crime world. Tevi and his father’s henchmen have been working towards finding the murderer of Tevi’s brother and his brother’s wife and daughters. We are switched back and forth and in flashbacks placed exactly where the filmmaker wants us. The journey is focused mainly on Tevi, Det. Solano and the alleged murderer Patrick (Billy Slaughter). Patrick’s encounter with a homeless woman, Dot (Deneen Tyler) foreshadows what we come to learn of Patrick. the others and resulting events. Dot may seem crazy but she is streetwise, observant and not to be messed with.

A great supporting cast and cinematography add immensely to the mood, the seedier side of New Orleans and the French Quarter playing as important a role as the characters. Gritty and sublime, it allows the viewer to marinate in the performances. Even though there is plenty of violence, the movie was not a constant assault of the senses. There were notes and influences of directors Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, David Fincher and Michael Mann, while remaining thoroughly fresh and original. There are quieter moments, but still the constant undercurrent of tension, the feeling that you have a moment to catch your breath at the top of the roller coaster before the big drop. The pace slows and quickens, but never lags. Just when you think you know, you don’t. I went for the ride and didn’t regret it.

Review by Shirley Rodriguez

Dark Meridian screened at the Kew Gardens Film Festival on August 9, 2017.

Visit the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5846628/

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

IFN interviews In Winter co-writer/co-director Alexander Gutterman

InWinterTrailer from Alexander P Gutterman on Vimeo.

A small team of US midwest filmmakers offered its first effort, In Winter, to NYC film fans on Thursday the 10th of August at 3:30 P.M. as part of the inaugural running of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

The film finds its center in the character ANNIKA (Nora Targonski O’Brien), a young woman in constrained circumstances, caring for an aging and senile GRANDFATHER (Dale R. Botten) who is haunted by memories of war. Its setting is a small northern town in the dead of winter. When MARK (Charles Hubbell), a wealthy married man stops in her town to visit affluent friends on his way to the Coast, an intense emotional and sexual entanglement develops between him and ANNIKA, whose powerful emotional depth hides beneath the stoic exterior of the small town underclass.

Under the chaste but passionate eye of local pastor FATHER JIM (John Cromwell), in the milieu of Annika’s world of small town bars and Mark’s background of jaded old money, the affair unfolds. Below the blanket of the bleak frigid sky, ANNIKA opens to possibilities previously inconceivable, while MARK is slowly swallowed by the merciless cold and solitude of the setting and the affair.

IndependentFilmNow interviewed Alexander Gutterman, co-writer and co-director of feature film In Winter (with Aboubacar M. Camara) by e-mail. Excerprts from their interview follow.

Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea for the story and its Minnesota setting come from?

Alexander Gutterman: The original inspiration for In Winter came from a powerful and painful experience I had over a series of months with a young woman from Vermont. This was around 2006 or so. This intense sexual and emotional entanglement was deeply gratifying but also deeply traumatizing, and at some point after it ended, I wrote and began to develop a short film called Loss which I was planning to shoot in Vermont with some colleagues. After moving to MN to be near my children, the original concept and core emotional tone of Loss developed organically into the In Winter script, informed by the severe cold, bleak emptiness, and post-Us-Steel depressed majestic industry of the Duluth region and the peoples and atmosphere of Northern MN.

IFN: You co-wrote and co-directed In Winter with Aboubacar Camara. How did that process unfold? Did you work remotely by e-mailing back and forth drafts of the screenplay? Did you each work on certain aspects or sections of the story? How did you work out the daily directing of the film?

Alexander Gutterman: When I first met Bouba there was this sense that it was NECESSARY that we collaborate. We met with the In Winter team from 2010 or so on, in study sessions, script reads, brainstorms, casting, and exploratory shoots to develop our understanding of the project. We overlapped to a degree creatively, but once on set Bouba focused primarily on technical oversight of the camera and lighting team while I periodically guided shot set up with the DP and gave most of my attention to the performances. The story was mine, as was the screenplay, but Bouba was both responsible for the formatting of the screenplay and led the editing process. Bouba’s significant work in the editing room was substantive enough to generate a writing credit, as key choices of his made major structural alterations in the unfolding of the film when viewed structurally.

IFN: The direction is at times almost austere and reminiscent of certain European auteurs. In many shots, the camera remains fixed while a character moves in or out of the frame. In one scene, for example, set in a kitchen, the camera remains focused on one character (the grandfather) while Annika (his granddaughter and the film’s main character) moves about just off-screen making him lunch, her body eventually entering the frame but not her face, and holding on that shot. What was your intention with such specific use of the camera and framing?

Alexander Gutterman: A tremendous amount of energy and thought went into the film’s cinematography. At the meta level, we looked closely at Bergman, Ozu, and Kubrick, taking what we thought relevant to our piece from each of them. We also examined each major location from a theoretical and symbolic perspective, and designed a signature use of the camera for each of these locations which remained consistent throughout the work. For example, at the Lake House of the wealthy we lookd to Kubrick’s limpid, clear presentation, at the Church we looked to a chiaroscuro reminiscent of Bergman. We developed our own approach to the Grandfather’s house, where we strove to create a sense of voyeurism by making sure that each shot was occluded or partially blocked by a doorway, wall, or some other aspect of the structure. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our motto for the construction of composition was “every shot a painting.” I worked with Joah Colby and Dan FItzpatrick and Bouba very closely on every single set up, looking for compelling composition, asymmetry, intrugueing depth exploration, and so forth.

With reference to the “kitchen shot” – we wanted to challenge the audience with a painful, lonely, silent and legthy experience where Annika’s frustration and anger is only knowable from the sounds of her opening cans and working with the microwave – in that same kitchen sequence, Annika’s status as an object (which she occupies in the lives of so many men) is explored through presenting only her elbows, hips, legs, buttocks and so forth. In this way her dehumanized situation receives symbolic visual expression.

Visit the films website: http://inwinterfilm.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Dark Meridian, written & directed by Rankin Hickman

Synopsis: A New Orleans detective gets caught up in a fight between two rival criminal factions while on a stake out. To survive the night, he must find a killer on the run and make things right before the killer reaches his other targets.

Dark Meridian will make its North American premiere on August 9th at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

Visit the film’s IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5846628/

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

The Lost Idea, directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya

Who is in control of your life?
What is most important to you?
What is reality? Perception?
Is it easier to follow and be passive?
Are most problems self-imposed?

So many more questions to be asked, but so necessary if you wish to move forward. The idea is to keep moving and asking and learning. Humanity and its complexities are examined in Amartya Bhattacharyya’s at times surreal film, The Lost Idea.

Our first image is of a young woman in a field seemingly giving birth. She is the embodiment the idea and Idea (Amrita Choudhury) is her name. She is the muse chased by many looking to birth their personal dreams and creations.

Two men, one older and one younger who seem to be on very different wavelengths converge. The older man (Lazy Man played by Susant Misra) who is married, sits daily doing nothing but reading his newspaper and being nagged by his frustrated wife. His frame of reference is external from whatever the news feeds him. His wife complains he is useless, but she is suspicious, jealous and unsupportive of anything that may come between them. She does not like his laziness, but does not want him to succeed either. It is as if some part of her prefers the routine of him sitting around and her nagging him to actually accomplishing something and possibly leaving her behind. In a few of the Lazy Man’s news article “visions”, he sees a well dressed woman rambling on about celebrity headlines, young women protesting the mistreatment of women and a belligerent political protester speaking against the effects of industrialization, colonization and its perpetrators. The serious and important matters of humanity, dignity and a better life take a backseat and backpages to the fluff and nonsense.

The younger man (Swastik Choudhury), is a self-described poet who sends his poems via village messenger to his girlfriend in London. He lives in a romantic, dreamy state in which he fancies himself the great poet and is seen communicating with the girlfriend about his aspirations in dreamlike sequences. He assumes she is having them published and mailing compensation back to him. We see that he has entrusted and handed over his poems (dreams) to someone who cares nothing about them in the messenger. No one will give your creation the same care and priority that you can. Inspiration is personal and trying to live another person’s life, dream or ideology is like wearing shoes not your size. If you wait to be inspired, you will keep waiting. The key is to search inside yourself, not someone else’s idea which can feel inauthentic and empty.

The subjects of Fear, Loneliness, Apathy, Envy, with the concepts of Good and Evil are expressed. How much do we question and do we follow blindly? The “mob mentality” no one dares veer from for fear of reprisals is detrimental to free thinking and contributions to make things better. One haunting vision is of a young woman wearing a red mask and a sackcloth dress with bloodstains. The film is set in India, where terrible acts towards women are not unique but well documented. This young woman represents the shame carried by the victim and guilt for being born a “weak” female. Any shame brought on families at times just by even talking to a boy or man regardless of how benign may be met with acid attacks or murder to “rectify” the situation.

As humans we are assaulted daily with what we “should” and “should not” be doing. Any deviation from the set norms of society are cause for derision and/or alienation. Even if results are detrimental, as long as the majority have decided on an approved action, common sense goes out the window. Humanity and compassion can be seen as weak because the goal is to crush, conquer and control. The town Mad Man (Choudhury Bikash Das) as labeled by his fellow residents, actually knows more than he is given credit for. But his fate is decided by the mob mentality and their disapproval and anger towards his actions of following his dream.

The movie is mostly set outdoors and lends itself to show the unpredictability and instability of life, humans are always looking to have power over. We love the feeling of control whether with our environments and/or purpose. There is a freedom and enlightenment to letting go and realizing the more we hold onto the less free we are. You make yourself a prisoner of your desires and obsessions instead of nurturing and letting it evolve naturally. Yes, an order is necessary in the world, but holding too tightly and squeezing the life out of something and perverting or destroying it is a tragedy. An interesting choice of music for a montage was The Prayer of Saint Francis: “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace”. I have sung that prayer many times and it is a message for everyone. The message of being a conduit for good, helping and having compassion towards each other.

The Lazy Man and The Poet compete for ownership of the Idea as if there is only one, not recognizing it is infinite. They ask a scary looking man representing Fate (played by Hrushikesh Bhoi) to be granted ownership of said Idea. He orders them to come back with proof expressed in a creation of their making, to see who deserves it. They each desperately try to find a way to top each other, but soon realize cooperation is a better solution. There is room for all expression, not that one is better than the other, which is subjective.

Children possess the ability to be in the moment and have that natural non-conformist attitude. It is after being continually indoctrinated that those innate feelings become clouded by doubt. In the end each of us must decide for ourselves the choices and the consequences for those choices. It makes you question plenty and that is something I enjoy. Life is never tied into a neat little package, but requires constant vigilance and evaluation. Even though the film might feel scattered, it actually flows and comes together. It has its heaviness and humor in balance and humanity throughout.

IMDb link – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5926914/

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

In Winter, written & directed by Alexander P. Gutterman & Aboubacar M. Camara

InWinterTrailer from Alexander P Gutterman on Vimeo.

In Winter will have its World Theatrical Premiere at Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, Thursday August 10, 2017, 3:30 PM. The writer/director, editor/director, lead actor, and numerous other team members will be in attendance for this theatrical world premiere as part of the inaugural running of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

The film finds its center in the character ANNIKA (Nora Targonski O’Brien), a young woman in constrained circumstances, caring for an aging and senile GRANDFATHER (Dale R. Botten) who is haunted by memories of war. Its setting is a small northern town in the dead of winter. When MARK (Charles Hubbell), a wealthy married man stops in her town to visit affluent friends on his way to the Coast, an intense emotional and sexual entanglement develops between him and ANNIKA, whose powerful emotional depth hides beneath the stoic exterior of the small town underclass.

Under the chaste but passionate eye of local pastor FATHER JIM (John Cromwell), in the milieu of Annika’s world of small town bars and Mark’s background of jaded old money, the affair unfolds. Below the blanket of the bleak frigid sky, ANNIKA opens to possibilities previously inconceivable, while MARK is slowly swallowed by the merciless cold and solitude of the setting and the affair.

Directed by a Minnesota duo originally from NYC (Alexander P. Gutterman) and Africa (Aboubacar M. Camara), and shot in Northern MN during a bleak winter, the film emerges as a fresh voice reminiscent of the European minimalist art film tradition. In Winter breaks new ground in its approach to story, cinematography, editing, and sound. Formulaic work is eschewed in favour of a rich, poetic, and subtle unpredictability in movement from scene to scene, and a risky existential expose of human sexual, emotional, and spiritual vulnerability. All is underlaid by the subtle exploratory soundscape by Tom Hambleton of Undertone Music Inc. which masterfully interweaves the sounds of winter, the human voice, and electronics and tibetan meditation bowls into an evocative and delicate exploration of the audible soul of winter and solitude.

Visit the website: www.inwinterfilm.com

See the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6749002/?ref_=nv_sr_

Like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/In-Winter-120807251356169/

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Grand Unified Theory, written and directed by David Ray

Grand Unified Theory Trailer from David Ray on Vimeo.

SYNOPSIS: During one fateful weekend, the family of brilliant astrophysicist Albert James has a complete meltdown, setting in motion a raucous and hilarious series of events that mirror his radical theories of the behaviour of the universe.

The film will be screening as part of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema on August 10th and is in competition for five awards, including Best Feature Narrative, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Its world premiere took place at the Beijing International Film Festival in April 2016.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Interview with Alberto Caviglia (Burning Love)

Trailer: BURNING LOVE – PECORE in ERBA from Gaetano Maiorino on Vimeo.

Mike Fishman recently sat down with Alberto Caviglia to discuss the Italian filmmaker’s latest film, the comedy mockumentary Pecore in Erba, English title Burning Love. (See Mike’s review of the film HERE). Exceprts from their conversation follow.

Mike Fishman (MF): Where did the idea first come from to make a film about anti-Semitism? Has anti-Semitism been on the rise in Italy?

Alberto Caviglia (AC): The idea of Burning Love arrived after quite a long time in which I was questioning myself and looking for a new way to talk about anti-Semitism. My research began because I started to feel that the common ways of telling stories about anti-Semitism were losing their impact because prejudice is so pervasive and because I think it is a very delicate theme with many taboos. I don’t know if anti-Semitism is rising in Italy, but I think it is evolving and we need to be careful and aware to recognise its different shapes.

MF: Why did you decide to make a comedy, and at that, a mockumentary? Were there certain jokes or areas of humor that you decided not to explore during the writing or filming? Were there scenes or moments that you filmed that you decided to leave out of the finished film?

AC: I think that using a satirical point of view, it was something that could make this film different because I wanted to use comedy as a weapon to face anti-Semitism instead of using it just for laughs. I didn’t want to have limits but at the same time I was aware that I had to be very careful using satire with such a delicate theme. I cut some scenes at the end of the shooting, but only because I wasn’t happy about how they come out or because I considered them superfluous, and never because they were “too much.”

MF: What has the reaction been like? How have Jewish audience members in general reacted?

AC: Reactions were really different, including in italy at the many screenings that I attended. I was happy to see people understood the main intent (and humor) of the film abroad, in France, Russia, Sweden, and also Germany where people seemed very struck by the film. Jewish audience members have felt the most direct emotional impact but I think they also mostly enjoyed the movie. They are so involved in the topic that it is almost impossible to have an impartial discussion about the film with them.

MF: How did you fund the film? How long was the shoot? Were there particular challenges to making a mockumentary?

AC: The shooting lasted about 5 weeks. It was very intense because I had about 340 scenes in the script. It was really hard to shoot all of them and in some cases I had to give up if I wanted to repeat different takes because otherwise I would never get through all my scenes. Post-production as well was a real challange in order to finish it in time for the Venice Film Festival. I edited it with my editor Gianni Vezzosi in less than one month and a half, working day and night…I think we needed at least one more month but we did a kind of miracle finishing it on time!

MF: What is the status of the film? Has it been picked up for distribution and will it run in theaters? Do you have plans to stream it?

AC: We don’t yet have any foreign distribution and I hope to find that. In the meantime, the movie is on iTunes and it is available on DVD (https://www.amazon.it/Pecore-Erba-DVD-Davide-Giordano/dp/B01FOSM33Y). It would be really nice to have it streaming as well. I will let you know.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Pecore in Erba (Burning Love), directed by Alberto Caviglia

Trailer: BURNING LOVE – PECORE in ERBA from Gaetano Maiorino on Vimeo.

Review by Mike Fishman

Went to a screening of the 2015 Italian comedy Pecore in Erba (Burning Love) at the beautiful Casa Italiana at NYU on West 12th Street. Standing room only for the film screening and a Q&A with the writer/director Alberto Caviglia and co-writer Benedetta Grasso. The film, set in Rome, is a mockumentary in the style of such classics examples of the genre as Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, and especially Woody Allen’s Zelig, 1983, which the director pointed to as a particular influence during the discussion after the screening. Pecore in Erba relates the life story of Leonardo Zulliania, an infamous if satirically popular anti-Semite who we learn at the start of the film is mysteriously missing. Through “home movies,” the film traces the life of the notorious Jew-hater from his very odd and troubled childhood to maturity as a wildly popular cartoonist, writer and speaker. Along the way, we see a priest congratulating his very young students when they “correctly” answer who killed Jesus (the Jews, of course) and young Leonardo suffering a hives attack when he finds out, to this horror, that Jesus was a Jew.

It all unfolds in classic mockumentary style, swiftly moving along its realistic timeline, every scene punctuated by a wink, followed often enough by a laugh from the audience. A smart satire, the film broadens its themes beyond anti-Semitism to the very topical issue of of fake news and the oppressor claiming oppression, with an anti-anti-anti-Semitic movement springing up to defend those anti-Semites being persecuted by the larger public and to defend their freedom of expression. If that sounds outrageous, it is, and mostly outrageously funny, Caviglia’s directorial pen like a sword slicing open some of the darkest corners of society.

The mystery of Leonardo’s disappearance is made subtly clear at the end (I’d rather not spoil it for those who have not seen the film) and proves to be a bit of an ironic comeuppance. But the meat of the film is the life journey of Leonardo, the plot really just there as a framework to support the absurd situations, pointed dialogue and deeply ironic humor. It’s a fascinating accomplishment of the director, an Italian Jewish man himself, to articulate the painful and very sensitive topic of anti-Semitism in a mockumentary format. As one audience member wondered during the Q&A, where will the film, which screened in 2015 at the Venice Film Festival, play in the U.S? Perhaps on the two coasts? At least hopefully, but it is doubtful very much in between, but certainly hopefully on some widely available streaming platform. Which means it will be a challenge to find its audience, a pity because it’s a film well-worth seeing for the discussion it might generate, not just specifically about anti-Semitism but about the nature of bigotry and racism as experienced in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter and Fox news.

It’s also very funny, a fact attested to by the audience members’ reactions, with the notable exception of one individual who proclaimed to not find the film funny at all. Whether this was due to her particular sense of humor or that she felt it demeaning to the issue to make a satirical film about it was not clear. It was perhaps reminiscent of some of the reactions people had to Tropic Thunder, 2008, not a great film and certainly not as serious in intent as Pecore in Erba. But that film also, albeit with a broader stroke, touched upon racism in an interesting way by having Robert Downey, Jr.’s character, an actor, sport black face in an effort to be “more black” for a role he is playing in the film . Controversial, perhaps, but thought-provoking at least to some degree. Pecore in Erba is certainly more thought-provoking and that makes it well-worth seeking out for those who can appreciate a good laugh, and serious glance, at the underbelly of society.

See this page for a fascinating Director’s Note about the film: http://www.filmitalia.org/p.aspx?t=film&l=en&did=77956

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

The Broken Legacy, written and directed by Miguel Garzón Martínez

The Broken Legacy Official Trailer from Miguel Garzón Martínez on Vimeo.

Review written by Shirley Rodriguez

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Mark 8:36

It has been said, everyone has their price and The Broken Legacy from director Miguel Garzón Martínez explores this theme. What would you do and how far would you go for something you want, and what point does morality really come into play?

Opening with the main character Steven (Michael Stahler) a young screenwriter, we see him seated at a bus stop reading a flyer for a drug trial he is headed to. At the facility, Steven and five other young people gather to participate in testing a new cholesterol drug. They take a pill every morning and for one month are isolated from the outside world. Their only meal consists of a bowl of what looks like oatmeal and they are prohibited from any intimacy with others while there. They are treated coldly and as what seems to be prisoners.

Tomas (Marcos Esteves), a somewhat charming and arrogant member of the trial group, introduces himself on the first day attempting to impress and charm, especially the three young ladies in the group. He is the rule breaker, often not wearing the required uniform and rebelling. Tomas sees that Steven likes Emily (Rayne Bidder) a young woman in their group. He offers Steven advice on how to go about approaching her romantically. Tomas’ advice and behavior seem to shift between altruistic and self-serving. He seems to be obsessed with the concept of immortality.

Upon discovering Steven’s aspirations as a screenwriter, Tomas attaches himself to Steven and offers a trade. He will help Steven talk to Emily and in turn Steven will collaborate in writing a screenplay with him. This is part of Tomas’s quest for immortality. He pushes Steven forward but you wonder who he is really helping. Tomas gives Steven a copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s book, On The Genealogy of Morals in which the origin of moral prejudices are broken down and, depending upon your position of power, being in or under it informs your perspective. We see how each action has its consequences and each character comes to their own realization. As they get to know each other better, they clash, work together and learn more about who they really are and what truly matters in life to each of them.

The other three drug trial participants Jacob (Oren Dayan), Jenny (Cynthia Bravo) and Liz (Justine Herron) serve to round out the story. They initially seem like background characters, but serve a greater purpose in the end. Jacob, a religious young man with aspirations of becoming a Minister, Jenny a very lively and social young lady with a heavy tech addiction and Liz the tough, no nonsense girl who looks to distance others with her mean exterior. They all need the money from the study for their own reasons, but learn that money isn’t everything when you have to sell your soul to get it. In a tense conversation with Jacob, Steven and Tomas, Jacob warns the other two that they will burn in hell for their choices.

Symbolically, they allude to hellfire, then there is actual fire (Liz carries a lighter) and the descent into the kitchen (a recurring scene of conflict and possible metaphor for Hell). Steven’s deal with Tomas may even be seen as a deal with the devil, causing him inner turmoil. The uniform they are provided includes a red shirt with a letter O with a smaller letter z inside of it. It made me think of Oz as in The Wizard of Oz and the “seemingly” all powerful that remains so until questioned. That heightened arrogance and hunger for power that can be a product of extreme insecurity which in turn can bring about the ugliest of scenarios and circumstances. Without elaborating too much or being too political, that theme is very timely right now.

The effects of the drug trial steadily become more evident and bring everything to a head. At what point do you decide or continue to let others decide for you? Do you make a deal at any cost? The film examines power, the exchange of it and the choice to keep it or give it away. With choices there comes accountability and standing firm in what you believe in.

Website: www.thebrokenlegacy.com

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Dog Years, written and directed by Adam Rifkin

Review written by Mike Fishman

Went to a screening at the Tribeca Film Festival of Dog Years, the new film written and directed by Adam Rifkin and starring Burt Reynolds as Vic Edwards, an octogenarian actor who travels to the International Nashville Film Festival to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. The problem is, this is the (fictional) International Nashville Film Festival, not the much-admired and very real Nashville Film Festival and Edwards finds himself facing a mixed crowd of about 40 people (to their credit enthusiastic fans) in the backroom of a bar with a projector and a make-shift film screen. Some of the expected clichés are in evidence: the rundown motel room the festival booked for him; a drunk Edwards lashing out at at the festival staff; the protagonist in need of saving doing some saving himself; even a reconciliation with an old lover who has Alzheimer’s but who peers out clear-eyed from her cloudy mind at the right moments. But the quality of acting and the level of commitment from Mr. Reynolds and co-star Ariel Winter as Lil, his reluctant, nose-ring wearing caretaker/chauffer for the duration of the festival, bring to their roles make most scenes utterly believable and the film as a whole ultimately moving.

Rifkin (whose previous work ranges from the comedy Detroit Rock City to the gritty Night at the Golden Eagle) wrote the screenplay specifically for Reynolds. And one can see why the actor, reportedly looking for one last great role, would be game for boring deeply into the semi-autobiographical storyline. The film embraces the aging process with Reynolds, at 81 himself, staring directly into the camera, then later edited into scenes of his actual films Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, humorously yet pointedly engaging his younger self in conversation, generally to warn him about the quick passage of time, hence the title Dog Years. It makes for a fascinating revealing of a fictional life reflected by the actor’s real life. Shot differently, the film could have been a mockumentary.

Along the way we are treated to snapshots of Reynolds in his prime: spraying a can of whipped cream down Johnny Carson’s pants; conducting interviews in his trademark winking, self deprecating style; and even his infamous nude pose for Cosmopolitan magazine, which the director interestingly utilizes onscreen while Lil soaks in a huge bathtub. Happily, the film goes nowhere near a romantic entanglement between the two, saving the real relationship complexities for a reunion with Claudia, his first of five wives (!), played by Kathleen Nolan. Vic and Lil “rescue” his now wheel-chair bound ex-lover from her nursing home, hurriedly wheeling her out to freedom with the staff nearly chasing after them. They take her to the picturesque spot where Vic had proposed to her decades (and a lifetime) ago. If this particular sequence sounds predictable, it is, but Reynolds’ palpable regret and Nolan’s unadorned responses make for a truly poignant and affecting scene. That such a powerful moment can occur within such a familiar framework is part of the magic of movies and while some scenes are stronger than others, the film gains impressive momentum and succeeds beyond expectation at ruefully portraying a man nearing the end of his road, lamenting the passage of time.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

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