AARDVARK (2018)

April 12, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. The feature film debut from writer/director Brian Shoaf benefits from the talented cast he has assembled. I do wonder about his initial “pitch”. The film opens with barely-there lighting as we watch a zoo-based aardvark borough through his tunnels. We can only assume prospective producers were not clued into such an oddball opening scene. Of course as the film progresses, the tie-in becomes obvious – maybe too much so.

Zachary Quinto stars as Josh, a young man who tries to take ownership of his issues by scheduling sessions with Emily, a therapist played by Jenny Slade. See, Josh has a bad haircut, some type of undiagnosed psychosis, and to top it off, his very successful older brother is back in town – an event causing much consternation for Josh (and soon for Emily as well).

We are never really sure of Josh’s mental illness or affliction, but we do know he has visions and hallucinations. The most serious of these are when he imagines his brother has morphed into other beings/characters just to mess with him. Much of our time is spent trying to discern who is real and who Josh is imagining. When Craig, his polar opposite brother, actually appears, it turns out to be Jon Hamm. Emily then proves herself to be the world’s worst therapist as she begins sleeping with her patient’s brother – the source of his anxiety.

Emily admits to a history of man trouble and poor judgment in this area. It turns out she and Josh are both lonely souls, and charming actor-brother Craig may be the key for both of them. Along the way, Josh befriends Hannah (Sheila Vand from the terrific A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT) and they seem to bond (in spite of Josh being Josh). Of course, we are left to ponder if Hannah is real or not – at least until the film’s final scene.

There is a running gag here that Emily is not a doctor, but rather a licensed practitioner. It appears to be the only real attempt at humor outside of having one of the Sonic commercial guys bump into Emily on her morning jog. Mental illness and loneliness are subjects that require a deft touch, and though director Shoaf seems to be striving for quirky, his film desperately needed to push the envelope much further. This one comes off just a bit too simple and clean. The best line in the movie, “I miss the things that weren’t there”, also sums up the feeling most of us will have after watching this one.

watch the trailer:

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A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)

January 4, 2015

 

a girl walks home Greetings again from the darkness. This is my third “first feature” from a writer/director this week, but there endeth any similarities. Ana Lily Amirpour presents the first ever Iranian romantic vampire thriller that blends the styles of Spaghetti Westerns, graphic novels and 1950’s rebel flicks, while making a social statement regarding Muslim women.

This festival favorite is an expanded version of Ms. Amirpour’s 2011 short film of the same title, and the use of black and white, combined with cinematographer Lyle Vincent’s extraordinary photography, delivers a beautifully stark dream-like atmosphere that lends itself well to the sparse dialogue approach.

Despite minimal conversation, we quickly recognize Saeed (Dominic Rains) as the ultra-arrogant drug dealer and bullying pimp, Arash (Arash Marandi) as the hard-working dutiful nice guy who sees himself as a would-be James Dean, Hossein (Marshall Manash) as the drug-addicted dad who burdens his son, and Atti (Mozhan Marno) as the aging, powerless prostitute with little hope. There is even the street boy (Milad Eghbali) who sees all and says little … and is the target of the film’s most terrifying scene (and maybe one of the most terrifying bloodless scenes of any horror film).

What really stands out about this low-budget gem is the seamless and effective mixing of genres. In addition to the “vampire” moments, there are a couple of the most quietly erotic scenes that I can recall (including an ear-piercing), and even a quite humorous scene with an under-the-influence Arash mesmerized by a lamp post while wearing a Dracula costume and being observed by a real vampire.

The vampire is played perfectly by Sheila Vand, whose intoxicating eyes and subtle facial gestures convey all whether she is feeding her appetite, being gently seduced by Arash, or slowly coasting on her skateboard. Her only time to unleash pent-up emotions is the previously mentioned scene when she warns “Be a good boy”. Otherwise, she is the lonesome vampire in search of connection who periodically weeds out the bad men – simultaneously improving society and empowering women.

It’s an odd production as the characters speak Farsi, but filming took place outside Bakersfield, California in a locale that fits the story town’s name, Bad City. Any influence of Iranian culture is only evident through interpretation and the excellent cast. The beautiful camera work is complemented by an outstanding and unusual soundtrack … a combination that proves Ms. Amirpour’s eye and feel for storytelling. The minimal dialogue approach is successful thanks to the atmospheric style and the talents of the cast (many of whom will be familiar to American TV and film audiences). It’s an exciting first feature and has many anxiously awaiting the next project from Ana Lily Amirpour.

**NOTE: In the 2011 short film, the vampire was played by Nazanin Boniadi, whom you might recognize as Fara from “Homeland”

watch the trailer: