BEFORE/DURING/AFTER (2021)

February 8, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is no “normal” process for the break-up of a marriage or any relationship. Sometimes it’s even be a relief to both participants. But that’s not what happened to Finnerty Steeves, and she’s written an insightful and grounded script that could hit home (or maybe too close to home) for many. Co-directors Stephen Kunken (who also appears briefly on screen) and Jack Lewars bring the story to life, accentuated by a terrific performance from Ms. Steeves herself.

Jennie (Finnerty Steeves) is a New York stage actress, and one particular audition is used as somewhat of a structural device for the story. The play is (ironically) entitled “To Have and To Hold”, and the scene she is reading cuts right to the core of what Jennie has gone through in her life. Her husband David (Jeremy Davidson) has had an affair. After 15 years of marriage, a lack of communication and differing goals, the couple finds their relationship crumbling. Flashbacks are used to show us different points in the relationship – from their wedding reception, to the arguments about his affair, and to the painful ordeal with her pregnancy. The flashbacks are the ‘replay’ in the mind that anyone would go through in her situation.

We tag along as Jennie and David work their way through a steady stream of frustrating couples therapists, played in order by familiar faces Kate Burton, Richard Masur, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Deborah Rush, and Stephen Kunken (the film’s co-director). We are also in the chair with Jennie as she’s “drilled” on the relationship by her dentist (the always entertaining Austin Pendleton) and his assistant (Kathleen Chalfant); and then again at Ladies Night Out with her friends – as they provide support for each other and exchange horror stories on past relationships.

There is an authentic feel to the situations and the characters, right down to Jennie’s supportive parents played by John Pankow and Kristine Sutherland. On Jennie’s first post-divorce date with Clark (John Ellison Conlee), she provides an example of how adults should act in a scenario that doesn’t go as planned. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to do the right thing, but real life tells us that it evidently is. Divorce often leads one through multiple phases: anger/sadness – acceptance – grief – rebuilding of a life. Noah Baumbach’s Best Picture nominee MARRIAGE STORY (2019) showed us a split that shook the Richter scale, and this film conveys something different.

Ms. Steeves has written a terrific script, and her distinctive hangdog facial expressions are perfectly suited to emotional turmoil, yet some of her best acting here is done in the scenes when she’s not necessarily sad. The number of familiar faces in the cast is quite impressive, and the gentle infusion of humor helps offset some of the pain Jennie feels. The film deserves bonus points for creating ‘hein-hole’, a label you’ll appreciate once you hear the root explained. On an unrelated, trivial side note that might be of interest to fans of the Harlem Globetrotters, Jeremy Davidson’s father, Mickey, played for the Washington Generals.

Available On Demand beginning February 9, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE MIMIC (2020)

March 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. It has been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Writer-director Thomas F Mazziotti has not only based this story on his own real life experience, but with it proves that imitation can also be the sign of a psychopath. In fact, as the film begins, we are informed that 1 in 25 people are psychopaths, and also playing a role here is “The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us”, a 2005 book written by Martha Stout.

This is an unusual film with an offbeat rhythm. It reminds me a bit of CREEP, the 2014 movie starring Mark Duplass, in that the characters all seem like someone we could know, yet there’s something a bit off. Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom”) is Tony, a lead character, a widower, and our narrator. Tony has not adjusted to life without his wife, and part of the reason could be how his friends and neighbors are always bringing it up. Once the “Kid” shows up, Tony is taken on a ride that has him questioning not just other people, but reality.

“Kid” is actually Peter (Jake Robinson), a 31 year old, red pants wearing newcomer to town. He seems to fit right in with the elderly local newspaper ladies as they bicker about semi-colons, but his real attraction is to Tony – proclaiming “we’re on the same wavelength” after a few ‘coincidental’ meet-ups. It’s tempting to label this as a battle of nitwits, but neither of the men lack intelligence. They are both just awkward, and that includes Tony, our trusted narrator.

The film is basically a puzzle with numerous separate pieces loosely packaged as a series of vignettes that may or may not tie together. The segments certainly provide a showcase for a plethora of recognizable actors. The list includes: Austin Pendleton, Gina Gershon, Jessica Walter, Didi Conn, Marilu Henner, Tammy Blanchard, Matthew Maher, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Josh Pais, and Steve Routman. One segment I found particularly entertaining featured Doug Plaut and the legendary M Emmet Walsh as a writer and director discussing a project.

For the most part, it just seems the film, the writers, and the characters are all trying so desperately to be witty, clever, or funny, that whether it works as a cohesive project gets kind of pushed aside. The background circus music fits well and complements the theatrical pacing and cadence. Mazziotti’s film is certainly not cinema-as-usual, and it will likely find a cult following … perhaps among those bonding “on a personal pronoun basis.”

 

 


THE SOUND OF SILENCE (2019)

September 12, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Turn that down!” Those are words we all hear when growing up and then repeat as our own kids come of age. Noise pollution rarely receives the same attention as that of air or water, and most of us are startled when we find ourselves out in the country – an environment lacking the everyday electronic, power cell, and human-generated noises we have come to accept and ignore. Director Michael Tyburkski and his co-writer Ben Nabors have expanded their 2013 short film PALIMPSEST to feature length, so that we might hear their point.

Peter Sarsgaard stars as Peter Lucian, a so-called “house-tuner”. Peter has turned his life’s work into an occupation where he visits his clients’ homes and identifies the imbalances and problem areas caused by sound. For example, his clients may have relationship issues or experience exhaustion from poor sleep. Peter uses his exceptional hearing and experience to identify an ‘out-of-tune’ radiator or buzzing toaster, with the expectation of improving the clients’ daily life. The premise is actually quite fascinating, especially for the city dwellers of New York City … a place Peter has meticulously plotted and charted sounds on a map over the years.

And yes, you are correct. Peter is a bit lonely and isolated from society. His interactions are exceedingly low-key and mundane, though it’s quite obvious in the early scenes that he take immense pride and pleasure from his work. Well that is, until he can’t seem to solve new client Ellen’s (Rashida Jones) issue. These first few scenes are the best the film has to offer. The additional scenes with Peter and Ellen seem forced, almost formulaic, as it slips into possible relationship mode for two people who don’t seem comfortable at all in the world. The other piece of this puzzle has to do with Peter’s quest for acceptance by the scientific community, specifically his mentor Robert Feinway (the always fun Austin Pendleton). Tony Revolori (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) plays Peter’s assistant Samuel Diaz, and screen veteran Bruce Altman plays an investor who wants to monetize Peter’s work.

Silence is not empty, but immeasurably full.” It’s this type of philosophy that the filmmakers use to add weight to Peter’s work. They keep us guessing as to whether he is a bit of a Savant … or more of a crackpot. It’s a high concept and ambitious idea accompanied by sound design that provides a constant tone/ringing that is sometimes faint, and sometimes prevalent. More of Peter’s early sound detective work would have proved more interesting, but you’ll likely find yourself a bit more attuned to the sounds around you after watching.

watch the trailer: