ALL ROADS LEAD TO PEARLA (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Rural, small town America forms an appealing backdrop for filmmakers due to the great divide: those who are desperate to “shake the dust off” and head for greener grass, and those who can’t imagine any other way of life. In his first feature length film, writer-director-editor-producer Van Ditthavong seizes on the small town atmosphere to create a sense of danger that complements the above-mentioned divide.

Alex MacNicoll stars as Brandon, a high school wrestler in non-stop training mode – replete with nose bleeds, early morning runs, and the quest to cut weight. Brandon lives in a trailer with his mother (Morgana Shaw) who has never gotten over the death of Brandon’s beloved brother. She’s an aggressive griever and takes out her anger on Brandon, leaving him squarely in the “can’t wait to get out of this town” mode. Brandon and Ellie (Paige McGarvin), the local grocery checker, are attracted to each other, yet, despite her warning, Brandon falls for the wicked charms of the mysterious bad girl Pearla (Addison Timlin, FALLEN). Naïve Brandon knows nothing of the town’s criminal underbelly, but Pearla is connected to the psychotic Oz (Dash Mihok, “Ray Donovan”), who is part of it.

Mihok seems to revel in playing the deranged Oz. He expertly balances his scenes as a vicious mask-wearing, gun-toting thug with his small town country-bumpkin mentality … one who spells bidet, “b-a-d-a-y”. Somehow in a town this small, almost no one is who they appear to be. This certainly includes Coach Baker (played by Nick Chinlund, who you’ll likely recall from CON AIR), the motivating wrestling coach with a dark side. Also in the ‘bad guy’ mix are Cowboy Loy (Corin Nemac) who is after revenge on Pearla, and shop owner Mamo (Tina Parker), who seems to control the local crime element, or at least tries to – “Nobody steals from me”.

Brandon’s English class covers a pertinent passage from Orwell’s “1984”, and his big dream involves saving enough money to drive his truck to El Paso for a job on an oil rig. There is some similarity in tone to the Coen Brothers’ classic BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), but of course, Mr. Ditthavong is not yet at that level as a filmmaker. However, for a low budget film that sometimes mixes up day and night, it benefits from nice performances and an atmosphere of dread. The entertainment value is such that I look forward to more projects from the cast and Van Ditthavong.

watch the trailer:


TOO LATE (2016)

April 7, 2016

too late Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer/director Dennis Hauck has a number of elements that are appealing to movie lovers on the lookout for something a bit outside the box. It’s the type of film that would be a festival favorite, as it provides no shortage of “talking points” for discussion afterwards.

Of course, casting John Hawkes is always a good start. Here he plays a Private Investigator named Sampson. The story is presented in 5 segments – each filmed in one extended shot. Oh, and it’s not presented in sequential order, so some assembly is required. The real end to the story is not the same as the ending of the movie, and the beginning of the story is actually in the middle of the movie. Confused yet? Well a loss of equilibrium is what makes this one so much fun to watch. Characters and story lines are intertwined – some accidentally, some secretly, and some surprisingly.

Hawkes appears in each of the five segments, and sprinkled throughout you will find such recognizable faces as Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Natalie Zea, Joanna Cassidy, Crystal Reed, Dash Mihok, Rider Strong, Vail Bloom, Sydney Tamilia Poitier and singer Sally Jaye. A strip club, the Hollywood hills, a Park Ranger, a suicide, and multiple murders all are key pieces to the puzzle … and none are presented exactly as we would expect.

With an unpolished 1970’s look and feel, the film offers a touch of Tarantino (including some of the actors who have worked with him), but mostly the vibe is refreshingly throwback. Even the music … Joe Tex, Cowboy Junkies, etc … is a bit offbeat, and of course, any movie that references Genevieve Bujold and Choose Me deserves a special place in my heart. It may not be the typically structured PI murder mystery that we have come to expect, but an unusual approach and the performance of Hawkes, makes this one to see.

watch the trailer: