Nowhere Nevada (2013): A Boy and His Stripper (Review)

Nowhere Nevada is a “retro” film. A throwback to those brilliant days of “Drive-In” films like the old Hell’s Angels flicks, with an almost obligatory Bruce Dern appearance, and a hard grainy rock soundtrack. The film also has “A Boy and his Dog” feel to it, only in this case the animal has been replaced with a stripper.

Shot entirely in northern Nevada and featuring a solid soundtrack populated with musicians from that state, Nowhere Nevada is a rambling, disjointed road trip film. It is also a lot of fun.

Directed and cowritten by David Richards (the late Marianne Psota also wrote the screenplay) Nowhere Nevada is a loving homage to all things Nevada. The state that boasts strip clubs, gambling, a huge desert and Area 51 is another character in the movie that sees a couple of malcontents running away from a disgruntled drug lord.

T.J. (Jef Derderian) and Christy (Liz Cole) make off with some envelopes full of coke and money. They run into a group of random “local” characters as they run from “K” (Max Volume) and the film wanders from one situation to another. 

The cast includes what appears to be a number of real strippers, tattoos and all, a number of band members from various Nevada groups and a lot of performers who wanted to pay homage to the late screenwriter Psota.

Art imitates quirkiness in this “garage film.” Cinematographer, and editor, Tyler Bourns has, along with director Richards, put together a film that sometimes jumps eclectically from scene to scene. It is  an apparent homage to “Planet Terror” (that splendid homage to grindhouse films by Robert Rodriguez) and it works to the film’s advantage.

There is a small amount of nudity, as befits this type of retro film, and some discrete sex. The acting is not “top notch” but, again, it matches the feel of the film and its theme.

At 100 minutes the film is not overly long and while it is a tad disconnected, it entertains in an old-fashioned sort of way. (Think The Wild Angels and Bruce Dern…)

A solid 3 star film  Nowhere Nevada is worth watching if for no other reason than its ’60’s feel and that Area 51 quirkiness.

Psychic Murder (2017): Faustian Twist (Review)

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox

Directed and written by Brandon Block (taken from the short story “Ghost” by Maxwell Gontarek) Psychic Murder has a distinct Faustian twist that leaves the viewer convinced that this will all end in tears. Ruthless agent Mickey Goldsmith (played coldly, and somewhat nastily, by Timothy J. Cox) zeroes in on the comic with three fingers on each hand; Billy (Will Bernish) and offers to represent him.

While there is that Faust flavour to the proceeds, the feeling is one of impending disaster. Billy, who is bombing when he first appears on stage, does somewhat better when he references his “defect.” This approach garners the young man more laughs but one feels that the cold audience is laughing at the novice stand-up and not with him.

Block and his cinematographer Bethany Michalski, along with production designer Danielle Naassana, opt to make the proceedings feel shady and slightly unpleasant. Mixing the sound (Corey Johnson) with an overblown decibel level and a somewhat sinister sounding crowd track combines with the seedy appearance and increases the unease factor exponentially.

Taking Billy’s rather inept attempt at comedy and showing us a crowd who clearly are not entertained or amused until Mickey’s table begin to react puts the agent in as devil’s advocate as well as, perhaps, an interlude to Billy’s journey to join the damned.

Cox kills it with those snide and cutting remarks about his previous client and that cold yet penetrating stare he uses to pin the new comic down like a bug on a bit of cardboard. There is clearly no mercy to be had here and Mickey tells his potential client that, in reality, he will do nothing to advance his career.

Despite this, and Puma (Tatiana Ford in her first role) trying her best to warn the lad off, Billy seems determined to take the menacing, and downright unpleasant, agent on as his representation. 

This is after Mickey tells Billy about his previous client Adrian Mann (Matt Moores) – an equally unfunny comic that Puma took a fancy to. Goldsmith tells Billy that he destroyed Mann’s career because his lady opted to love the hapless performer. However, one gets the feeling that Puma was just the bait used for Goldsmith’s trap. He clearly goes after the less talented stand-up artists.

There are things that jar with this short drama. The hands of Billy, for example, look cartoonish. (So much so that one expects some reference to it.) This could well be an allegory for the whole scenario, however, with the fake looking three-fingered hands representing the falseness of Goldsmith’s offer.

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox
Billy, wannabe stand-up comic

The sound, which is overly loud in several places, intrudes at the beginning but, once again, this appears to be on purpose. Block opts to allow the background music to drown out Mickey’s first few words to Billy. The emphasizes the bewilderment of the novice performer and his nervousness after his stressful set.

Psychic Murder is lit with a bit of soft, yet harsh, saturation that also adds to the allusion that Billy is not just desperate to be a stand-up comic but he also sees this as his salvation, no matter how unrealistic it feels.

Clearly Block and Gontarek have had some shared experience with the hard to please crowd of the stand-up set. It is a harsh world where the comic has to be good, or at least have the audience on his or her side, to survive. If the performer is off, or not up to the task, the comedy crowd audience can be brutal.

Regardless of whether the writers and the director have personally experienced this world, they have given us a dour, and somewhat unsettling, look at the world of live entertainment. Mickey and his right-hand lady represent all that is wrong with this world and the film gives us a vision of decadence and cruel that is upsetting.

Psychic Murder is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and, despite those cartoon hands, gives up pause for thought. This one is worth a look, or two, if for no other reason than to see Timothy J. Cox playing the devil incarnate.

All images courtesy of Timothy J. Cox

Hell or High Water (2016): A Modern Depression Film (Review)

Chris Pratt and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water

In many ways Hell or High Water is a modern-day depression era film. Helmed by Brit director David Mackenzie from a script written by actor/writer Taylor Sheridan, the film follows to down-at-their-luck Texas brothers who are robbing a specific set of banks. 

Chris Pine; Toby Howard, and Ben Foster; Tanner Howard, are the brothers and Jeff Bridges, along with his Texas Ranger partner Gil Birmingham hunt the two men down. It will be the last case of soon to be retired Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and the Howard brothers are only stealing enough cash to set up Toby’s estranged family.

The film is a tad slow and methodical, even a little predicable – especially towards the end of the film – but overall it hits all its marks. There is the odd surprise and Bridges may just steal the film with his reaction in the desert after one brother is taken out.

Hamilton “takes the shot” and in an almost thrown away moment ranges to convincingly portray a number of emotions in a few frames. It shows just why this Oscar winner is a sure bet for any film that requires not just massive acting chops but the cojones to know when to pull a coup. Whatever Bridges was paid for his smaller role was not enough.

Mackenzie manages to emulate, to a great extent, the murky and under-bellied world depicted so well by the Coen Bros. “No Country for Old Men” springs to mind as does the 1984 film “Blood Simple.” Both films are set in rural Texas and both about people trying to rise above their station despite the odds against them.

While the film can be seen as a homage to brotherly love and a cry of outrage against the banks who take advantage of the less well off in society, it also shows the opposite side of the same coin. Bridges’ character is a man “out of time” who works to get one last case solved before he is forced to retire.

Hell or High Water is also about family and how even dysfunctional ones can come together when they need to. Foster’s character, a repeat offender who really does not fit into society as a “useful” member helps out his straight brother. The siblings may not see eye-t0-eye on how to rob banks but they manage to work pretty well together.

Equally fractious is relationship between the two Rangers. They come across as being a bit too prickly but their jibes are good natured underneath those cutting remarks issued by both Hamilton and Parker. These two men have worked together long enough to have that brother’s in arms love that evolves regardless of the job performed.

Pine and Foster play well off one another and this works well for the film.  Bridges and Birmingham also fit together nicely as the lawmen who are chasing the bank robbers down. The whole story, regardless of the “familial” theme in the film, feels a bit “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The robbers take “small pickings” to keep the cops guessing and to make taking them that bit more difficult.  It ends in a sort of stalemate situation that feels very “western” in nature and overall the film is entertaining.

Hell or High Water is a solid 5 star film. It is evocative of a modern western with tinges of the great depression added on. The performances are solid and the director manages to pay homage to other “modern” western/cop films.

Towards the very end of the film, where Tanner is driving up to stage his final stand, the area and the path leading to the hills where the convict brother buys his brother some breathing space, looks much like the beginning of the Donald Segel film Coogan’s Bluff.

This alone shows an awareness of a cross-genre film that also takes place in the desert, although the 1968 film starts in Arizona and ends on New York.  Mackenzie clearly loves these types of films and applies himself accordingly.

Catch this one if you can, if for no other reason that to see Jeff Bridges ply his magic on more than one occasion in the film. The film is rated ‘R’ and has some nudity, a little sex and violence. There is some gore but it is not overly intrusive. There is not an overabundance of viscera.

Check out the trailer below:

Texting in New York City (2016): Experiment in Vision (Review)

Image courtesy of Mansu Edwards

Written and directed by Mansu Edwards Texting in New York City is an experimental film that choses to utilize subtitles instead of dialogue. The main reason, it seems, is the guerrilla style of filming that Edwards uses.

The short film, just over 10 minutes, follows the journey of a forgotten cell phone. Its owner is a student who has issues with money and problems of the heart. The young man spies an attractive woman in the subway and in his haste to approach her leaves his phone behind.

Edwards opts to have all his characters speak via the subtitles onscreen with a soundtrack that is comprised of electronic noises. The idea, apparently, is to evoke images of texting. However, this is not shown on screen nor is it implied.

What is obvious with the action, and character interaction, is Edwards’ intent to show how using cell phones have replaced “normal” conversation. It also acts to facilitate people “hooking up,” as is the case with the chap who finds the phone on the subway.

The characters we meet in the short film are all college students presumably and this also goes towards the director’s message. Younger people use the phone not just to communicate but to avoid communicating.

With out any spoken dialogue and that electronic, and intrusive, soundtrack, the film comes close to annoying the viewer. However, it appears that this is Edwards’ intent. His protagonists do not do any real communicating, aka talking, via those subtitles, other than short snappy slang.

The point seems to be that talking is too much trouble. Each character speaks in shortened phrases, all too similar to a text or an email. Mansu makes a valid point with his short film but ultimately the entire thing is unenjoyable.

Despite the valid message in this experimental film the method of delivery irks.

Texting in New York City is almost a 3 star effort. The guerrilla style, combined with the somewhat confusing storyline, makes it interesting but lacking in impact. It also needs to lose that irksome soundtrack.

This is a solid first effort however. Mansu Edwards has taken an unusual route in telling this story. It will be interesting to see what the writer and director comes up with next.

Have a look at the trailer and see what you think:

American Violence (2017): Anti Death Penalty Message? (Review)

Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea

Written by Al Lamanda and directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. American Violence can be seen as both a cautionary tale with more than its fair share of tragedy and an anti-death penalty message all rolled into one.

Starring a number of well-known faces, including Bruce Dern, Denise Richards,  Johnny Messner and Patrick Kilpatrick, the film features Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea. A man on death row awaiting his execution by lethal injection. 

Richards is psychologist Dr. Amanda Tyler. She has been asked to review the man’s case file to find violent flags. What follows is a journey through Shea’s life.

The entire story borders on a clichéd premise. The young Shea is sexually abused by his uncle, his mother drinks herself to death and after his first stint in prison, Jackson’s convict partner in crime is tortured to death.

American Violence is a tragedy in several acts that approaches the subject matter with an attitude that takes itself a tad too seriously. Shea’s life is interesting but the movie takes too long a look and loses something because of it.

At 107 minutes, the film drags a bit in the middle and could have benefitted from a little less imagery. There are shots in the film that indicate the criminals who inhabit this world are victims. (Pay close attention during the torture scene at the icon on the wall behind Martin Bigg.)

Regardless of the main message that the film projects – that violence begets violence – the underlying theme is that too much violence corrupts as it deadens those who are consistently exposed to it.

All the people in Shea’s life are unpleasant and, no real surprise here, violent. If they are not prone to kill other people they are, at the very least, aggressive and threatening.

Although we are led to believe that the “love of his life” Olivia (whose father is a criminal kingpin) is something special.  The killer’s story is one of a ever deepening spiral into death and revenge that ultimately destroys him even before his execution can be carried out.

Even the legal system in his world is corrupt and full of people who take advantage of their position and power to push others into doing bad things. As the film reveals the story of Shea’s life, it takes great pains to show the convict as both victim and sinner.

There are some solid performances from the actors that fill out the film. Richards may be that bit too serious but it fits the character. Bruce Dern delivers in spades, as usual, and Emma Rigby, as Olivia Rose, satisfies as the femme fatale love interest.

Despite the length of the film and the more obvious stereotypical characters and tropes American Violence is almost compelling. It is hard to be uninterested in Shea’s story as it unfolds via his session with Tyler.

The number of capable actors who interact with Lyman-Mersereau help to sell the story.  At the end of the film we may not agree with the its heavy-handed message but we can at least understand it.

American Violence is a 3 star film that strives to be much more than the sum of all its parts. There are bits that work extremely well however. The lighting, for example, tells us that the very character of Shea is a mixture of light and dark. Just as the framing, and lighting, of Dern’s character reveals that he is not evil but acting naturally given his position.

The film will premiere on February 3, 2017. Check out the trailer below and see what you think.

AMERICAN VIOLENCE – THEATRICAL TRAILER from Status Media & Entertainment on Vimeo.