Some independent films are just so amazing, heartfelt and original it pains me they’ve never found a larger audience or made a bigger splash. Dennis Brooks’ Goodnight Joseph Parker has the kind of script, acting and execution that would probably have attracted Oscar attention had it been done on a bigger budget or had more marketing, but this thing is a barebones indie despite having a fairly well known cast and remains to this day a long buried treasure. Somewhere in New Jersey is a run down, behind the times bar run by Charlie (Paul Sorvino), staffed by waitress Rita (Debi Mazar) and frequented by drunkard Frankie (Richard Edson). This is a humdrum, low income barfly existence in a part of town that never changes save to continue to its own beat, until estranged regular Joey Parker (Nick Chinlund) returns to town in a “900 dolla’ suit” with tales of making it big and going on Jay Leno soon. His return sparks many feelings and long repressed things from the past, in paternal Charlie, in Rita who has always loved him and local junkie Muriel (Kim Dickens) who he loves and foolishly plans to propose to with all his new flash and swagger to back him up. But flash and swagger is what barely masks the pain, sadness and regret in all these characters, that and the booze they constantly swill. This isn’t so much a story as it is a quick snapshot of collective lifestyles in the Jersey area, but even though it’s a ‘small’ story, the emotions and character dynamics couldn’t feel more immediate or affecting. Chinlund is one of the most underrated actors of his generation, mostly saddled with supporting villain roles in his career, but when he’s given a lead like this he really and truly shines. Joey is a man who lives in his ego and when he’s forced to shed it, to confront himself and where he stands in his old community, well Nick’s performance is something to see. Sorvino has always been one of the greats and he’s heartbreaking here as a man who constantly tried to do the right thing and is haunted by the consequences, it’s a manic, playful, compassionate and comedic bit of acting genius. Mazar is another one who constantly gets stuck the ‘snarky bitch’ character and for sure she’s great at that, but give her some breathing room, let her play a more sensitive type girl and just watch what she can do, her work is spellbinding here. As if all that talent isn’t enough we also get a recurring cameo from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler as a sleazy, hyperactive ladies man who runs in and out of the plot like a tornado. In the credits it says this film is ‘inspired by the music of Tom Waits’ and indeed he can be heard rasping away on the soundtrack faintly from time to time. The film really captures the day in, day out nature of this part of town, and the human beings whose drink, laugh, fight and live within it. It takes place over the course of one night and the following day only, but in that window of time I felt all the joys, sorrows, triumphs, downfalls, regrets, passions and hopes in this group of scrappy individuals and cared for each one deeply. Brilliant piece of filmmaking.
It is that time of the year when we look to feel magical. The Christmas spirit lifts us up out of the murk that we have been grinding through all year long and . . . in the midst of a silent night; we find a moment of peace. Refreshing it is then, to have stumbled across a film so innocent. Whose message is born out of childlike innocence and hope – that the world which we inhabit has not killed all of the wonder, the mystery and the joy?
Into this scene comes a peculiar yet dynamic messenger. A herald from the heart of the child in us all that delivers a message so hauntingly simple, we would be fools not to take heed. This visitor is a Clown – whether he is real, or merely a delightful apparition I leave to your perception – with a notion we often abandon in times of peril. The Clown speaks to us, in the tongues of men and angels. And he tells us to just, “Believe.”
The core of this film is the creative duo of father Nick Lyon (director) and son Adrien Lyon (The Boy). Nick’s cousin, Gabe Dell Jr., who trained as a performer with Cirque du Soleil, plays the role of The Clown. And the family canine, Foxy Lyon, plays the demanding role of The Dog. The film has its origins as a project for Adrien’s fifth-grade student film festival. Originally entitled The Sad Clown, they all realized the short film had some sort of mystical allure, and Nick decided to expand the story by writing a feature-length screenplay to incorporate the footage already “in the can.” Nick soon recognized that the latter part of the script was going to be complicated to shoot and expensive (it took place at a clown competition in Las Vegas). He also realized that by filming only on weekends, Adrien was destined to outgrow his role if they didn’t pick up the pace. Nick knew that a retool was in order and sent the script to veteran screenwriter and friend, Ron Peer, who saw this as the opportunity to create something different, something special, an indie family film featuring … a clown!
“I had never quite read anything like it,” says Peer. “There was just something charming about it. Watching the footage already shot, I was immediately entranced by Gabe Dell’s emotional performance as The Clown. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.” Nick and Ron’s new goal was to rewrite the screenplay so that it could be shot in two weeks during the upcoming summer. Ron and his wife Mitzi Lynton also acted as producers and crew of the film. The final two-thirds of the movie was shot in Big Bear, California, with a micro crew, including Nick’s eldest son, Parker Lyon, and close-friend and cameraman Rick Mayelian.
In a world where evil clowns dominate the theatrical landscape, Nick and Ron were deliberately cutting across the grain by creating a family film that focused on the “good clown,” harkening back to Shakespeare’s classic “Fool” and the performers of commedia del’arte. “Dell’s clown character stems more from the European tradition rather than the red-haired Bozo character seen at American circuses and children’s parties,” says Peer. “It’s a shame that the evil clown stereotype has become so prevalent that a word for fear of clowns has emerged in our lexicon: coulrophobia.”
“I hope that audiences really respond to our little movie,” Nick adds. “I would love to direct a sequel. But at the speedy rate that Adrien seems to be growing, I may be shooting with his son.”THE BOY, THE DOG, AND THE CLOWN is reminiscent of the charming European films of the 1960’s, and has been compared to the French classic The Red Balloon.
The film premiered at Dances with Films festival in June of 2019 and won the Audience Award. THE BOY, THE DOG, AND THE CLOWN has also received family certification from the Dove Foundation. Gabe Dell Jr. gives a performance I couldn’t believe. The man is a magician with a screen presence that was so engaging. The film that revolves around him brings to mind some of the luminously enchanting films I came across during my childhood like Vojtech Jasny’sThe Great Land of Small.
This movie is pure joy . . . a perfect holiday gift . . . find it now . . .
Oh hey another top ten of the year film for me. I love a good passion project, especially when the two artistic forces behind it are a couple beloved character actors who have spent much of their career in Hollywood playing villains, criminals, weirdos, bikers, aliens and all kinds of heavy stuff. William Fichtner’s Cold Brook sees the consistently brilliant actor team up with equally fantastic buddy Kim Coates for a charming, wonderfully simplistic tale of two small town dudes who make an incredible discovery.
Fichtner and Coates are Ted and Hilde, two lifelong pals who work as maintenance men for the college museum in their sleepy upstate NY town of Cold Brook. They each have a loving wife (played by Robin ‘Calamity Jane’ Weigart and Mary Lynn ‘Chloe O Brien’ Rajskub), kids and pretty much as cozy a life as anyone can hope for, complete with the kind of bromance that makes it obvious these two actors are tight in real life. Then one day a mysterious and deeply confused stranger (Harold Perrineau) shows up in the museum exhibit after hours and seems to follow them around after that like he has some purpose that even he doesn’t understand, and only our two boys can see him. It’s up to them to find out why this restless spirit has chosen them, what he wants and how to put him to rest while juggling the curious eyes of their wives, bosses and one campus security guard (Brad Henke) who takes his job just a bit too seriously.
This is low key, whimsical indie fare through and through and I downright fell in love. I’ve been following William and Kim’s career since I was a kid, they are two endlessly talented scene stealers and I can’t tell you how lovely and cathartic it was to see them just play a couple bros living and loving the small town life. They both shine brightly in their work here and Fichtner shows a steady hand in writing and direction here too, telling a story that clearly means a lot to him in broad, loving strokes. Perrineau is really effective as Gil the wandering spirit, seeming somehow perpetually lost but also pointedly soulful in each appearance. If you’re at all a fan of these two artists then I’d very strongly recommend this as you get to see them do the kind of work that Big Hollywood just doesn’t usually ever hire them for, something very personal to each and something that allows them the kind of freedom in expression that we as artists always dream of. Even if you’re not a huge fan it’s a beautiful little indie to watch on a cold rainy morning to warm the heart. Brilliant film.
It has been the dream of many an artist to be able to do what they love for a living. Find the thing you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life…so the saying goes. Thus my cinematic adventuring has brought me to the cinema of Rene Perez…and the man they call…..Bronzi.
It began as a trickle on social media. Fleeting glimpses rumors permeating of the man who would be Bronson. Who was he…was he a relative…the product of an onset love affair…? I went, as I often do, to the director of what would turn out to be bold cinematic statements which would not only shine a spotlight on the incredible one-man-band movie-maker who is Rene Perez…but also…it would cement the coming of a new age DTV or VOD genre icon – his name Robert Kovacs . . . aka Robert Bronzi.
It has been documented by the New York Post, Variety as well as our brothers and sisters in the cinema-obsessed website and podcast community . . . and now, it comes at last….to Podcasting Them Softly. Here I present the furiously, fascinating life of a work-a-day filmmaker. Rene is a man I admire greatly. Surviving via a high output of commercially released B movie productions, he sleeps little and creates much – the price he pays for being in essence, a solo auteur. Generating genre staples in the arenas of Horror, Action and Westerns – Perez has the distinction of having directed Bronzi in such films asDeath Kiss, Cry Havoc, From Hell to the Wild West and the most recently released, Once Upon a Time in Deadwood.
So listen now to my chat with the inexhaustible Rene Perez and then continue to scroll down for my interview with the man himself….Bronzi.
In another time, in another place….in the age of VHS…this story of two artists colliding at the right time, at the right place would not be uncommon. There are many stories of thrilling partnerships in genre cinema history. They came together and transformed the B movie into an event. And, in this age where the video stores are dead and the streaming services rule the world…a glorious sight it is to see this…a type of mini-cataclysm…rise out of the rivers of mass media…pooling in an ocean of awesomeness. I give you…A Boy and his Bronzi….
Rene Perez is a movie Director known for “Playing with Dolls: Havoc” and “Death Kiss”. In addition to being the Director, Perez is also the Cinematographer, Editor and Writer of his films. Born and raised in Oakland California, Perez started writing and drawing comic books as a child and in his teen years he became a musician known as ‘The Darkest Machines’. Perez still composes music under the stage name “The Darkest Machines”. Perez now lives in a small town in northern California with his wife and children. He works full time as a movie director / producer for hire for several producers and distributors
When Rene related the story of how he uncovered a living, breathing…for all intents and purposes the reincarnation of Charles Bronson – and let me go on the record once more when I say to you…he walks like Bronson, he pulls a gun like Bronson, he walks boldly into the face of certain doom like Bronson…in fact…for my money Robert Kovacs, the guy that Rene saw a picture of and figured it to be a digitally remastered photo of an old picture of Charles Bronson, is more than just a guy that reminds us of a dead icon. The truth is…Charles Bronson, like John Wayne before him, left us a-ways back. But they live forever in their movies – we can visit them anytime we like. So, Bronzi, like Bronson will enjoy his moment in the sun. Some would argue that the novelty will be short-lived…? That maybe the case, but for right now, we have ourselves a brand new B movie icon . . . I think that should be celebrated…?
Here’s my chat with Robert Bronzi . . .
KH: Could you tell us a little of your life before you started making movies?
RB: I’m an actor musician and stuntman ,I did a lot of different things in my life. I worked as a horse breeder and horse trainer. I performed at western shows in Hungary and Spain. I’m an accordionist; I played music in bars, in weddings and private parties.
KH: The million dollar question . . . at what point in your journey did people start saying, “Hey, you know you look a hell of a lot like Charles Bronson?
RB: Many years ago in Hungary I worked as a horse breeder where there were a lot of visitors every day. People told me that l looked a lot like Charles Bronson. I worked with my good friend Peter, he would always say that I looked like him and he began calling me Bronzi. So he gave me this nickname.
KH: Was it purely this attribute that attracted attention and motivated filmmakers to want to work with you?
RB: I would say yes. A short story: Director Rene Perez saw my photo on a saloon wall in Spain in the western village where I worked as a stunt performer. He thought it was a photo of Charles Bronson years ago. He asked the owner about the photo. When he found out it wasn’t Bronson it was me, he told him, “I want to meet this guy immediately!”
KH: I recently saw a sneak preview of Cry Havoc, directed by Rene – I especially love the scene where you prepare to lay it all on the line for your daughter in the film – your pull the shirt off and walk towards him, staring death in the face. I cheered loudly watching it and woke my wife who was in bed. What was that scene like to shoot?
RB: I really enjoyed it; this is a very important part of the movie as I fight to save my daughter, for life or death. In addition, we were shooting in a burnt forest where thick ash covered the ground. Ashes flew everywhere during the fight.
KH: You have worked with Rene now on a number of films. Do you enjoy the creative freedom on offer shooting with him? He also told me when I interviewed him, that you also help holding microphones and other duties beside your work as an actor?
RB: Working with Rene is easy, he is a very talented director, he knows what he wants, but if I have some ideas, we discuss them and he is usually open to making changes based on my suggestions. Of course, I help with filming that’s in my own best interest isn’t it? We are often up in the mountains or shooting in difficult conditions. I help him with a few things, and not just me, everyone out there, I think we’re a team and we need to help each other out.
KH: Are you at ease with, in a way, being engulfed by the shadow that is being a performer that is recognized for the whole “he looks like Bronson” deal?
RB: I have used my appearance to my advantage throughout my career as a stuntman and actor and I am grateful for the resemblance that I have to the great Charles Bronson as it has created many opportunities for me.
KH: Would you work on a big budget film should you be presented the opportunity?:
RB: Yes of course I would love to have that opportunity and I’m sure it will happen in the near future.
KH: What are the types of movies ‘you’ want to be in, or are you happy to be offered the type of parts you are making a name for yourself with at present?
RB: So far my roles have been quite varied and I would like to continue making western and action movies in the future.
KH: I can’t get over – not just the amazing and uncanny resemblance – plus the fact that even the way you carry yourself on screen is so similar to the legendary Bronson – would you be happy if this is your mark on cinema history?
RB: I am very grateful for my resemblance to Bronson, and I am proud to be compared to him. I also appreciate the opportunities that I have had because of this but ultimately, I really want to be remembered as an actor in my own right, as Robert Bronzi. I put a lot of work and effort into each role that I take on and I want my personal skills and talents to be my legacy.
KH: If Charles Bronson were alive today…if you met him…what would you say to him, and what do you think he’d reply?
RB: I would say to him, “Mr. Bronson nice to meet you in person and I am very proud to be your double. I try to do everything well, with my best knowledge and talent as an actor, and I hope you will be proud of me.” And hopefully he would reply, “Nice to meet you too Robert I really like your personality and I think you represent me well. Best wishes for your future career. I give you my blessing.”
You heard it here folks. Out of the shadow of a legend he came. His place in genre cinema…I’d say is a lock!
In this current climate where blockbusters saturate the public consciousness, it is encouraging indeed to see there is still an independent movement – and not only is it alive, but it is flourishing. One of the brightest stars in our indie cinematic heaven at the moment is the fiercely-driven man of many talents, Mr Tamas Nadas.
Tamas is a three-time world champion and eight-time European Champion – that on top of being a former US National Brazilian Ju-Jitsu Champion. In 2017, he won both a silver and bronze medal at the World Police & Fire Games (the second biggest tournament in the World after the summer Olympic Games). In 2018, he was inducted into the US Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and has since been developing projects for his production companies, Busy Day Productions and Dark Road Pictures
His production titled, FIERCE TARGET, is a lightning-paced, action extravaganza that tells the story of a rebel car thief who helps an imperiled 12-year-old girl. As their two worlds collide they are soon marked for death by a corrupt Senator, who orders his security team to conduct a ruthless campaign to erase them both from existence.
A cross between a couple of vintage offerings from ‘The Stath’ (The Transporter, Snatch), tossed into the blender with intense character driven, innovative, kick-ass action – well ladies and gentlemen – you have yourself all the makings of a bloody grand old time at the movies. Rounding out the luminous talents behind this finely crafted throwback to those beer, buddies and bad food action movie nights we have: Chloe Gunther Chung, Tamas Nadas (Millennium Bugs), Emilio Lavizzi (The Exchange), Bryan Hanna (Mega Shark vs Kolossus), Fabrice Sopoglian, Thom Mulligan (RoboWoman), Don Worley, and more. Written and directed by Emilio Lavizzi.
Tamas Nadas and Emilio Lavizzi both made the journey to the land of the free and the home of the brave for the same reason: to become actors. Meeting in California, they began this journey together, and the fruits of their labors are now pristine examples of how awesome a film can be if its makers are big on passion instead of budget. Fierce Target was written while Emilio lived in South of France. Inspiration lingered in the form of those machismo-dripping action/martial arts flicks that never shone like they did in the 80’s and ’90s. The fight choreography was made spartan, infusing the action with a gritty undercurrent.
Casual fans and aficionados alike of indie action goodness – I urge you most fervently to seek out, and above all enjoy, Fierce Target, and my chat with this kick-ass action-moviemaking maestro on the verge of glory…
There are relics from the days of VHS that have endured. They ultimately found they’re following on video and developed significant interest to warrant subsequent Director’s Cuts and Special Edition releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Some – but not all. Such is the curious case of The Wizard of Speed and Time.
Like my friend and talented filmmaker, Wade Copson, put it (and I quote): “Once upon a time, in a Video Store open down the road from our house, I was searching the titles for a movie about people making movies. I stumbled across a VHS with a shiny cover called The Wizard of Speed and Time.”
Just like Wade, I discovered TWOSAT in a similar fashion. There had been a few covers with that reflective material employed to catch the eye – another, off the top of my head, was The Wraith.
But did you know TWOSAT wasn’t supposed to be a feature? Long before Robert Rodriguezwas the one man movie-making machine, Mike Jittlov was doing it all. The Wizard was being compiled to be Mike’s show reel, in essence a calling card to display his incredible array of talents and his mastery of each and every facet of film-making.
But like all stories, there’s a villain. In Hollywood those against you for the own financial gain always seem to have a habit of landing on their feet while leaving your dream in tatters. Mike has been fighting against speed and time ever since and is now, at last, in a place where he finds himself still with the will to see The Wizard be restored to the state in which the artist (Jittlov) always intended it to be seen.
It was after Wade asked me one night, some time ago, if I was familiar with TWOSAT. The spark went off in my head; “Could I get in touch with Mike Jittlov?” Firstly because I too am a fan of The Wizard, but also because I thought he would make an incredible guest.
Ironically the first thing I found online was an interview from a British film website where the journalist, when asked how he had managed to track down Jittlov, simply said, “His phone number is on his website. I waited until the time it suggested was best to call and I phoned him – we ended up talking for an hour.”
“Could be that easy?” So I followed suit. Went to the website (which had not be updated in quite some time by the looks of things), got the number, waited till the time suggested – and made the call. Sure enough, there on the end of the line was Mike Jittlov. He had no interest in being interviewed because of prior misrepresentation, but he agreed to talk to me (and we talked for over an hour). I didn’t pause the recorder – if for any reason it was because this was perhaps the closest I’d ever get to The Wizard – the recording would be a memento.
But Mike did consent to allow me to share this with you fine folks. I have cut parts of the discussion that I feel are too personal to be revealed in this arena, and have kept the film-making side of our chat for your listening pleasure. As a fan first I was extremely nervous and thus mumbled my way through it but, what can I tell you, if you have not seen TWOSAT, get out there. YouTube is your best bet for easy access, though it is a different cut when compared to the VHS edition.
I’ll say it here publicly Wade, you a one lucky boy and I hope in a future episode to record Wade’s tales from meeting with The Wizard himself. Till then I have my experience to share, I still have my copy of the film, and last but not least I have a little prayer – let Mike Jittlov finish his work O Lord, so that the world might at last see The Wizard in all his glory….
SUPPORT THE RESTORATION OF THE WIZARD’S SOUNDTRACK HERE:
Well I’ve been working on this one for a while now. A collection, a tribute to the wondrous array of talents out there doing exactly what they want to do. Godard famously once said: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” That may have been the case for him, but I like my movies with a few more ingredients. Werewolves, giant snakes, sharks – it’s all part of my complete breakfast so, I endeavored to get in contact with those few, those happy few, this band of indie auteurs who don’t need permission or studio backing to do what they love to do – which is make movies.
Perhaps it is fortuitous regarding the timing of the release of this piece that all of the films here mentioned are now out there and available for your enjoyment. Mr. Bonk’s ‘Jaws Indoors’ sharksploitation offering, House Shark, Mr. Braxtan’s urban anaconda comedic actioner, Snake Outta Compton, Mr. Sheets Werewolf O’ glorious Werewolf killing by night picture, Bonehill Road and finally, Mr. Dean brings us his second installment of justice wreaking havoc by the full moon with his part man, part wolf, all cop, Another WolfCop.
We need these independents now more than ever ladies and gentlemen. Hollywood at large has become a cookie-cutter industry were everything is either a remake, a sequel or an adaptation. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something boring. It is and has degenerated into a vicious cycle that sees the movie business in the safest place it has been in decades. And why? Because dear reader, there is no gambling on a property that doesn’t already carry a built-in audience. No risk versus reward. It’s the same old shit – just in a different box.
So thank God for the Independents. Robert Rodriguez once said, “Don’t give me any money, don’t give me any people, but give me freedom, and I’ll give you a movie that looks gigantic.” Hollywood has long forgotten that the size of the budget does not equal the size of a film’s success. It is the films that defy convention, that resist formula, that are at play in the fields of freedom and creativity and not those designed and dictated via a committee in some corporate office that are still exciting audiences.
The studios may have the guns, but we got the numbers. We have the power now to embrace these magnificent artists. Together we can bring them in from the fringes and with all the social media tools at our command, we can use our influence to elevate these men and their glorious pictures to ever greater heights, instead of perpetuating the norm which sees us elevating fools into rich heroes.
Yes dear reader, today is the day. The day on which we can declare in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night – we will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate, The Independent’s Day.
(DUE TO A BAD CONNECTION, SOME OF MY INTERVIEW WITH RON WAS LOST - BUT PLENTY REMAINS - I TRUST YOU'LL STILL ENJOY)
Ron Bonk is a producer and writer, known for Clay (2007), Night of Something Strange (2016) Strawberry Estates (2001) and She Kills 2016. He was born in Cicero N.Y. and attended Cicero, North Syracuse H.S. Then he graduated from M.V.C.C. , and Utica College. He is the president of S.R.S. Cinema L.L.C. in Central New York.
Hank was born and raised in Grand Junction, Colorado; this would be his greatest accomplishment until dropping out of film school at age 26. Even from a very early age, Hank showed a genuine interest in being entertained. In 1998, he put his lack of ambition on hold and joined the US Army as an Intelligence Analyst. After his discharge for honorable behavior in 2004, Hank attended film school for a short while, and made a bunch of nonsense about Ghostbusters fighting Freddy Krueger and other copyrighted materials. In the days before YouTube, that was kind of a big deal.
Hank has since gone on to work in the same town as many famous filmmakers. He currently has several projects in several stages of development, etc.
Daniel Roebuck made me cry. That’s tough to do. There are certain films that have achieved this but they are few and far between. With Getting Grace, Roebuck has constructed a tale that is about that good thing, maybe the best of things. He has made a film about hope.
The story is that of a girl dying. Some might argue that such a plot easily accommodates the tear-jerking factor, but I don’t think that’s true. Field of Dreams is a movie that gets me every time, but I wouldn’t say that it sets itself up as a tear-jerker. In that movie’s case, the plot is more about listening to the voices inside us all and not allowing the inherent cynical nature of humanity to sidetrack us. It is also a story of redemption in the respect that a ghost, a former baseball player, helps the protagonist make peace with his father via love a of the game they both once shared.
In the case of Getting Grace, much like Disney’s Polyanna prior, it falls to a quirky yet luminous spirit of a young girl, staring at the end of her mortality and the optimism she evokes to cope with her fate to inspire, and in many ways redeem the broken characters that encircle her throughout the story. Both films deal with death, but reinforce that death is far from the end.
It’s a heart-warming tale that leaves you thinking about the preciousness and the fragility of our existence for a man of great faith. After all, to have endured in show business for the length of time Daniel Roebuck has – you need faith and hope in bundles.
It was an illuminating and thought-provoking discussion that I had with Daniel. He is a stalwart of the industry having worked in everything from big movies to indies, action films to animated efforts, and even mentoring other young actors as they struggle to make their ascent. Through it all he has retained a charming, positive presence that reflects in the enthusiasm with which he attacks his roles and now as he steps behind the camera to tell stories that enrich and enlighten.
It was as much a pleasure to talk with him as it is for me to present one of the nicest dudes . . . Daniel Roebuck.
There’s a ton weed comedies out there, stoner slapstick silliness at every turn, but it’s not often that someone takes a serious stab at cannabis culture and uses the phenomenon to tell a moving, character driven story. Humboldt County is a painfully unknown gem about a community of rural pot growers in a tucked away nook somewhere in California, and the fish out of water med student (Jeremy Strong) who stumbles into their midst. After meeting restless free spirit Bogart (the great Fairuza Balk), they meander back into her isolated hometown where the locals grow marijuana solely for their consumption, a place where it’s a way of life. He comes from an academic background, has a Doctor father (Peter Bogdanovich) who’s trying project his legacy onto him by supervising his path through school. This rigid curriculum is upended by the people he meets and the customs he adopts here, and is the very definitional finding oneself. Legendary Brad Dourif shows up in one of his best non horror roles as Bogart’s father Jack, a scatterbrained pothead whose airy nature is contrasted by a deep compassion and fierce love for his family, especially when tragedy strikes. It’s not all idyllic either, especially when coldhearted Feds target their land and threaten what they’ve built. It’s a wonderful little film that not only sheds light on a now thriving industry and lifestyle that was just beginning to bloom back in the mid 2000’s, but a cathartic character study, a life lesson in loosening up, master class in acting from Strong, Balk and particularly Dourif, and a story worth telling. Smoke up.
The title ‘Super Dark Times’ serves as a warning of sorts for the film to follow. It should be wisely taken into consideration, as this is probably the most disturbing film I’ve seen all year. In contrast, it’s also one of the most beautifully made. Bring a comfort blanket or cuddle buddy though, because these aren’t only Dark Times, they’re bleak, grim and tough to absorb without feeling grossly affected after. I like it when films explore themes of both violence and adolescence bourgeoning side by side in small town youth, everyone from Stephen King to David Lynch have been fascinated by these ideas. Violence is an unavoidable step in the learning curve for youngsters and a key element in any individual’s coming of age, no matter what we tell ourselves. First time director Kevin Philips pads those themes well by telling his story in the most realistic, blunt fashion he can, casting kids that genuinely look to be high school age, using sound design and cinematography to create a frighteningly immersive atmosphere and not neutering the stark violence in off-screen gimmicks to soften the blow of a blood-chilling story. Two normal enough high school boys (Charlie Tahan and Owen Campbell, both superbly good) are set on different yet equally dark paths following a brutal accident that scars them both, awakens a dark passenger in one and lays a blanket of dread over their small upstate New York town. That’s all I’ll say in terms of plot, it’s a scary guessing game of dangerous encounters, adolescent discoveries and tragic violence that unfurls like a jet black velvet carpet of doom. Metaphors as colourful as that are just me trying to abstractly impart to you how affecting the visual and auditory mood-scape are, but you’d be better off just watching the thing for yourself. Philips leaves certain areas of the narrative *just* vague enough until one gets the gnawing notion that what is presented to us might not be the full story, a tactic which instills the aftertaste of unease beyond the film’s bloody conclusion. Speaking of conclusions, this has to have the most suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in a while, a breathless, literally razor sharp confrontation that feels earned and urgent because of how invested I was in the characters up until then. The film opens with violence, proceeds through a violent tale and ends with it as well, but as is often the case with films that care to do so, there’s contrast, a certain vitality to the characters and a hope that lives in lingering shots of a dying sunrise or a girlfriend (Elizabeth Cappuccino) gently comforting one of the protagonists. I read another review that called this ‘a simple story, well told’, which I partly agree with. It goes without saying it’s well told, but there’s a complexity to it, an intuitive force guiding the proceedings that one can feel like an undercurrent, and the moods it stirs are anything but simple. One of the best films this year.