TWO WAYS HOME (2020)

December 29, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a bit of a rough start. The armed robbery of a convenience store doesn’t come across as menacing or threatening, but rather almost comical as the burly dude retreats, leaving the ski-capped (not masked) woman behind to face the cops. The scene does however set the stage and background for that woman’s story. Kathy (Tanna Frederick) is sent to jail where she is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Transferred to a treatment center, Kathy is given medications for control, and released early.

Kathy seeks redemption and normalcy as she heads back to her family. The reception is lukewarm at best, and her now 12 year old daughter Cori (Riley Behr) outright rejects her. Cori has been raised by her father Junior (Joel West) and Kathy’s parents, and is now the ultimate overachieving adolescent who wants nothing to do with her ex-con mother. In the midst of Kathy’s homecoming, her beloved grandfather Walter (Tom Bower) has had a heart attack on his pig farm, and now the family is trying to have him certified as “not competent” so they can take over his land (a generational farm). Kathy is disgusted by this, and wants nothing more than to give her grandfather what he wants most … a chance to live out his final days on the same land where his father died.

With no shortage of awkward conversations or situations, Kathy struggles to acclimate back into her family and small Iowa hometown. The best and most poignant scenes are with Kathy and her grandfather, and with Kathy and Cori. Kathy relates to her grandfather, as he’s being labeled just as she has been. In his case, he carries the weight of old age, while she carries the stigma of mental illness. The conversations between Kathy and Cori are more intimate, as a mother and daughter try to reconnect.

Director Ron Vignone and writer Richard Schinnow do a nice job creating small town authenticity, and proving that family dysfunction is certainly not limited to big city life. Cinematographer Christopher C Pearson captures some nice shots of beautiful Iowa farm land, and mixes it with the often uncomfortable family moments. Veteran actor Tom Bower is a real standout here, and we ultimately wish he had more screen time. Ms. Frederick captures the essence of her character, and faces the challenges of those burdened with the mental illness stigma. We should appreciate the inclusion of Kathy encouraging her grandfather to write down his memories and experiences for future generations. It’s a valuable step that too few folks take.

Available on VOD beginning December 29, 2020

watch the trailer


LIGHT OF MY LIFE (2019)

August 7, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. The opening scene features an adolescent child spellbound by the bedtime story being told by a father. The story is an enhanced and personalized version of Noah’s Ark, and the scene goes on for at least 10 minutes … the camera never leaving their faces. What appears to be a simple campout turns curious, if not a bit ominous, as the father is next shown taking down a rigged security system and hiding certain personal items. This is the narrative feature directorial debut for Casey Affleck, who also wrote the story, produced the film, and is the lead actor (the father noted above).

As the daily rituals of these two characters unfold, the pieces of the puzzle come together and we learn there has been what is described as QTB – a female plague – that has killed off most of the females on the planet. As if a world of only men isn’t frightening enough, the father’s traveling companion is soon revealed to be a young girl disguised as a boy. This creates the ominous tone and explains the ever-present danger for these two, as rumor has it that the few remaining women are being held captive in camps to prevent the entire species from being eliminated. This is the story of one man’s efforts to protect his precious daughter from a society gone awry.

Anna Pniowsky establishes herself as a young actress to keep an eye on, as she is terrific as Rag, the daughter in disguise. Wise beyond her years, and though she has a general understanding of the constant threat, she is also quite curious about herself, her mother, and this bizarre world she is traversing with the only person in the world she can trust. Elisabeth Moss appears as the mother during flashbacks for Affleck’s character. This previous home life was a peaceful and loving environment, but the mother was stricken by the plague not long after giving birth to the daughter.

In contrast to the motherly environment, this father-daughter bond and existence requires constant preparation for escape. They must always be ready to “go” at a moment’s notice. Their red alerts and back-up plans are discussed and repeated. Their life in hiding means they never know who they can trust, and their solution is to distrust everyone – even though the father explains not all men are the enemy. His low key sense of calmness masks the constant stress they face.

Mr. Affleck is an Oscar winning actor (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), and he shows some promise as a filmmaker (after his previous experiment with Joaquin Phoenix in I’M STILL HERE). Expert cinematography is provided by Emmy winner Adam Arkapaw (“True Detective” season one). At its core, the film is a story of the bond between father and daughter; however, it’s wrapped in a survival story. They strive to survive the next hour, the next day, and the next night. The film is a blend of CHILDREN OF MEN (2006), THE ROAD (2009) and LEAVE NO TRACE (2018), yet it brings a different tone and an emphasis to just how far a parent will go to protect their child. It’s a dystopian tale with a splash of gender identity questions, and a bond between father and daughter best surmised with their own words, “I love you to the sun and back.”

watch the trailer: