By Roger Costa
ONCE UPON A RIVER
Massively awarded in various prestigious Festivals, including taking Best Director at both Red Nation and Boston Film Festivals, writer-director Haroula Rose’s fictional debut is a sensitive and alarming coming of age story, addressing female abuse, abortion and sexism. Adapted from the popular book by Bonnie Jo Campbell, the film follows 15 year-old Margo as she escapes from her predators and from a self-defense crime, trying to reach out her estranged mother. A very talented shooter and hunter, Margo lives with her father, after her mother had abandoned them, exploring the wilderness around her. Her half uncle is a very rich man who seems to control the company town, and in a curious turn, she falls easily for his seduction. Her first sexual encounter becomes known and stirs up social and racial scandals among them, creating a snowball of conflicts and, ultimately, fatality.
Set in 1977 Michigan, the half Native American heroine embarks on a journey through the Stark River after the tragedy, crossing paths with a Cherokee teacher, and an aging, severely ill musician, named Smoke. Played by John Ashton, in a riveting and Oscar-caliber performance, Smoke brings compassion to the narrative, providing heartbreaking moments. First time actress Kenadi DelaCerna, in the role of Margo, also gives a fascinating, unpredictable and nuanced performance.
Beautifully erotic, heart-pounding and complex, it’s an accomplished debut about a personal adventure of a girl exploring desire, danger and the sacrifices for survival.
(Film Movement. 10/2. Virtual Cinemas. Go to https://filmmovement.com/once-upon-a-river for details.)
Impressively crafted, this highly dramatic thriller sheds light on many social and racial issues, such as police negligence, abuse and discrimination, and raises awareness for the alarming numbers of missing children in the US alone- which counts about half a million as of now, according to the authorities’ reports. Based on a true story, Romanian-American writer-director Vlad Feier’s debut feature efficiently presents the disturbing facts on the case and the reactions on family and society, and split them as seen through three male characters: the determined and anguished father desperately seeking for his missing pre-teen daughter; the ambitious and unsettled journalist, pressured to deliver accurate material and taking the case on his own hands and risks; and the abusive, aggressive detective whose excessive attitude constantly puts others at harmful situations.
The narrative deeply explores these men’s roles and importance on the case, as well as the traumatic consequences on all parts involved. In some nostalgic shots, moments of family joy shared by the missing girl and her father, as seen through his memories, prove the film’s ability to provide a lyrical balance between the violence and the virtues.
Investigative and profoundly performed, Feier’s cameras speed through the streets and neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Manhattan, hunting for answers and hope, while depicting an accurate story on faith, justice, racial harmony and solidarity.
(Blue Fox Entertainment. Now In Theaters and VOD. 10/6 on DVD. Go to https://www.bgpics.com/movies/still-here/ for details.)
SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER
British filmmaker Carl Hunter’s fictional debut is a touching dark comedy centered on the unconventional attempts of a father in reconnecting to his estranged son after a series of tragic events. The film kicks off in an eccentric and cynical atmosphere, where widower Alan (the irresistible scene-stealer Bill Nighy) meets his son Peter (Sam Riley, showing off some maturity) for an emotionally challenging task: they’re on the way to recognize a body that could possibly be his missing son’s. They check in at a hotel, where they meet a couple going through the same experience, and they initiate a game of scramble words where Alan takes advantage of the couple’s trust. After confirming the body wasn’t his son, Alan continues to spread flyers around town, cheerfully regaining some hope. He then realizes he should invest more time in reconnecting to his son, and experiencing the pleasures of being a teenager’s grandfather- that’s when the narrative centers on his willingness to restore trust and love among them, using the word game as motivation, while it affectingly presents moving aspects of fatherhood, forgiveness and redemption. Fine performances and emotionally convincing examinations on three generations (the grieving father, the son longing for understanding, and the self-confidence of the teen son), makes this blend of deadpan comedy and sentimental drama, a triumphant and irreverent father/son relationship tale. Plus, it delivers a beautifully composed score, and one of the best cinematography of the year, gorgeously capturing both dark and bright tones of the film: natural landscapes, the ocean, the roads and forests, as well as the vibrant, colorfully amusing interior shots (which aesthetic could be defined as a combination of Wes Anderson’s and Almodovar’s interior colors).
(Blue Fox Entertainment. Now On VOD and DVD. Go to https://www.bgpics.com/movies/sometimes-always-never/ for details.)
Nominated for the Queer Lion Award at Venice Film Festival, Peter Mackie Burns’ sophomore directorial effort is an outstanding and revelatory drama about human desire, sexual identity and the capitalism challenges of our troubled times. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, a respected actor constantly listed among the best performers by the Irish Film and Television Academy, which currently has granted him 2 nominations this year, one for the Leading Actor role here, and another for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “Dublin Murders”, gives a courageous, fierce performance as a 46-year old family man who sees his life turning upside down after his first homosexual encounter with a young hustler. Already overwhelmed and grieving the recent death of his father, Colm downward spiral continues when he loses his job at the local dock, faces an increasing cold interest on his wife, and is blackmailed by the gay prostitute. Hopeless and reckless, he delves into an emotionally risky, sexually-charged and hurtful money-based relationship with the seductive sex-worker, as his only option of finding solace. He also must deal with breaking the news to his son, as he decides to come clean and honest about his awakening. Anchored by this tour-de-force performance, punctuated by his disturbed, threatened emotions, haunted by desire, guilty and circumstance, the director conceived an absorbing, erotic, explosive and heartfelt male crisis character study.
(Breaking Glass Pictures. Now playing at select Virtual Cinemas. 10/20 on DVD. Go to https://www.bgpics.com/movies/rialto/ for details.)
Investigating the overdose deaths of his gay son and his son’s lover, a detective enters a free sex zone in the back of a nightclub, where he can’t handle the heat. Since the sudden tragedy, he has been engaged in the process of understanding his son’s world, going through his steps and experiences, meeting up his friends and lovers, and observing their behavior and lust. His close and intimate connection to a much younger clubgoer lead him into a sexually-filled adventure as he becomes enthralled by his impulsive attraction.
Brazilian-born director Ricky Mastro’s vibrant portrait of loneliness, drug abuse and addiction, sexual lust and behavior is an accurate, realistic and poignant drama that really sets up the mood for techno with its powerful soundtrack and depiction of the club scene. The camera vibrates at the club’s floor, as dozens of shirtless men surrender to threesome-like dancing moves, the same way it penetrates in the intimacy of the sex scenes, or the highlights in the silent moments the cop spends analyzing his condition, and how he had denied his interest in men. Antonie Herbez is excellent as the middle-aged policeman, but is the supporting cast who steals the scene, creating a fabulous gay atmosphere with their freedom and uplifting perspectives.
Addressing the dangers of drug abuse, the importance of equality and respect, as well as a timely account on gay behavior, Mastro scores an accomplished modern drama.
(Breaking Glass Pictures. 10/13. Virtual Cinemas, VOD, DVD. Go to https://www.bgpics.com/movies/7-minutes/ for details.)